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Nadia Comăneci
Nadia Comăneci Montreal1976c.jpg

Nadia Comăneci at the 1976 Summer Olympics

Personal information
Full name: Nadia Elena Comăneci
Country Represented:  Romania
Date of birth: November 12, 1961 (1961-11-12) (age 57)
Place of birth: Oneşti, Romania
Discipline: WAG
Level: Senior international
Gym: National Training Center
Former coach(es): Béla Károlyi; Marta Károlyi
Choreographer: Geza Pozar
Eponymous skills: Comăneci salto (uneven bars)
Retired: 1981

Nadia Elena Comăneci (born November 12, 1961) is a Romanian former gymnast. She is famous for scoring the first ever perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics history in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Comaneci scored six perfect scores in Canada. She was coached by Béla Károlyi. She is married to former American gymnast Bart Conner, who is a commentator for the sport.

Early life

Onesti in Romania
Onești, the small town where Comăneci was born, shown on Romania's map

Nadia Elena Comăneci was born on 12 November 1961, in Onești, which is a small town in the Carpathian Mountains, in Bacău County, Romania, in the historical region of Western Moldavia.

In a 2011 interview, Nadia's mother Ștefania said that she enrolled her daughter into gymnastics classes simply because she was a child who was so full of energy and active that she was difficult to manage.

Comăneci graduated from Politehnica University of Bucharest with a degree in sports education that gave her the qualifications to coach gymnastics.

Early gymnastics career

Nadia Comăneci Prague1977
Comăneci in the 1970s

Comăneci began gymnastics in kindergarten with a local team called Flacăra ("The Flame"), with coaches Duncan and Munteanu. At age 6, she was chosen to attend Béla Károlyi's experimental gymnastics school after Károlyi spotted a friend and her turning cartwheels in a schoolyard.

Károlyi was looking for gymnasts he could train from a young age and saw the two girls during recess. When recess ended, the girls ran inside. Károlyi went around the classrooms trying to find them, and eventually spotted Comăneci. (The other girl, Viorica Dumitru, went on to be one of Romania's top ballerinas.) Comăneci was training with Károlyi by the time she was seven years old, in 1968. She was one of the first students at the gymnastics school established in Onești by Béla and his wife, Márta.

In 1970, she began competing as a member of her hometown team and became the youngest gymnast ever to win the Romanian Nationals. In 1971, she participated in her first international competition, a dual junior meet between Romania and Yugoslavia, winning her first all-around title and contributing to the team gold.

For the next few years, she competed as a junior in numerous national contests in Romania and dual meets with countries such as Hungary, Italy, and Poland. At the age of 11, in 1973, she won the all-around gold, as well as the vault and uneven bars titles, at the Junior Friendship Tournament (Druzhba), an important international meet for junior gymnasts.

Comăneci's first major international success came at the age of 13, when she nearly swept the 1975 European Women's Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Skien, Norway, winning the all-around and gold medals on every event but the floor exercise, in which she placed second. She continued to enjoy success that year, winning the all-around at the "Champions All" competition and placing first in the all-around, vault, beam, and bars at the Romanian National Championships.

In the pre-Olympic test event in Montreal, Comăneci won the all-around and the balance beam golds, as well as silvers in the vault, floor, and bars behind accomplished Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim, who was one of her greatest rivals over the next five years.

1976

American Cup

Nadia Comăneci 1976
Comăneci wearing her medals

In March 1976, Comăneci competed in the inaugural edition of the American Cup at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. She received rare scores of 10, which signified a perfect routine without any deductions, for her vault in the preliminary stage and for her floor exercise routine in the final of the all-around competition which she went on to win. During this event, Comăneci first met American gymnast Bart Conner. While he remembered this meeting, Comăneci noted in her memoirs that she had to be reminded of it later in life. She was 14 and Conner was celebrating his 18th birthday. They both won a silver cup and were photographed together. A few months later, they participated in the 1976 Summer Olympics that Comăneci dominated while Conner was a marginal figure. Conner later stated, "Nobody knew me, and [Comăneci] didn't certainly pay attention to me."

Summer Olympics in Montreal

At Montreal [Comăneci] received four of her seven 10s on the uneven bars. The apparatus demands such a spectacular burst of energy in such a short time—only 23 seconds—that it attracts the most fanfare. But it is on the beam that her work seems more representative of her unbelievable skill. She scored three of her seven 10s on the beam. Her hands speak there as much as her body. Her pace magnifies her balance. Her command and distance hush the crowd.

Nadia Comăneci Montreal1976f
Comăneci in 1976

On 18 July 1976, Comăneci made history at the Montreal Olympics. During the team compulsory portion of the competition, she was awarded the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics for her routine on the uneven bars. However, Omega SA—the traditional Olympics scoreboard manufacturer— was led to believe that it was impossible to receive a perfect ten, thus the scoreboard was not programmed to display that score. Comăneci's perfect 10 thus appeared as "1.00," the only means by which the judges could indicate that she had indeed received a 10.

During the remainder of the Montreal Games, Comăneci earned six additional tens. She won gold medals for the individual all-around, the balance beam and uneven bars. She also won a bronze for the floor exercise and a silver as part of the team all-around. Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim was her main rival during the Montreal Olympics; Kim became the second gymnast to receive a perfect ten for her performance on the vault. Comăneci also took over the spotlight from Olga Korbut, who had been the darling of the 1972 Munich Games.

Comăneci's achievements are pictured in the entrance area of Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, where she is shown presenting her perfect beam exercise.

Nadia Comăneci 1976b
Comăneci doing the floor exercise at the 1976 Olympics

Comăneci was the first Romanian gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title. She also holds the record for being the youngest Olympic gymnastics all-around champion ever.

The sport has now revised its age-eligibility requirements. Gymnasts must now turn 16 in the same calendar year of the Olympics to compete during the Games. When Comăneci competed in 1976, gymnasts had to be 14 by the first day of the competition. It is not currently possible to legally break this record.

She was the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year for 1976 and the Associated Press's 1976 "Female Athlete of the Year". Back home in Romania, Comăneci was awarded the Sickle and Hammer Gold Medal for her success, and she was named a Hero of Socialist Labor. She was the youngest Romanian to receive such recognition during the administration of Nicolae Ceaușescu.

"Nadia's Theme"

"Nadia's Theme" refers to an instrumental piece that became eponymously linked to Comăneci shortly after the 1976 Olympics. It began as part of the musical score of the 1971 film Bless the Beasts and Children, originally titled "Cotton's Dream". It was also used as the title theme music for the American soap opera The Young and the Restless. It became associated with Comăneci after cinematographer/feature reporter Robert Riger used it against slow-motion montages of Nadia on the television program ABC's Wide World Of Sports. The song became a top-10 single in the fall of 1976, and the composers, Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr., renamed it "Nadia's Theme" in Comăneci's honour. However, Comăneci never actually performed to "Nadia's Theme." Her floor exercise music was a medley of the songs "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" and "Jump in the Line" arranged for piano.

1977–1979

Comăneci successfully defended her European all-around title in 1977, but when questions were raised about the scoring, Ceaușescu ordered the Romanian gymnasts to return home. The team followed orders amid controversy and walked out of the competition during the event finals.

Following the 1977 Europeans, the Romanian Gymnastics Federation removed Comăneci from her longtime coaches, the Károlyis, and sent her to Bucharest on August 23 to train at the sports complex. The change was not positive for Comăneci. She was extremely unhappy; her gymnastics skills suffered, and she attempted suicide by drinking bleach. At the age of 16, Comăneci competed in the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg "seven inches taller and a stone and a half heavier" than she was in the 1976 Olympics. A fall from the uneven bars resulted in a fourth-place finish in the all-around behind Soviets Elena Mukhina, Nellie Kim, and Natalia Shaposhnikova. Comăneci did win the world title on beam, and a silver on vault.

After the 1978 "Worlds", Comăneci was permitted to return to Deva and to the Károlyis. In 1979, Comăneci won her third consecutive European all-around title, becoming the first gymnast, male or female, to achieve this feat. At the World Championships in Fort Worth that December, Comăneci led the field after the compulsory competition, but was hospitalized before the optional portion of the team competition for blood poisoning caused by a cut in her wrist from her metal grip buckle. Against doctors' orders, she left the hospital and competed on the beam, where she scored a 9.95. Her performance helped give the Romanians their first team gold medal. After her performance, Comăneci spent several days recovering in All Saints Hospital and underwent a minor surgical procedure for the infected hand, which had developed an abscess.

1980–1984

1980 Summer Olympics

Nadia Comăneci Moscow1980
Comăneci in Moscow, 1980

Comăneci was chosen to participate in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a city that was part of the Soviet Union at that time. As a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter declared that the United States would boycott the Olympics (several other countries also participated in the boycott, though the reasons varied). According to Comăneci, the Romanian government "touted the 1980 Olympic games as the first all-Communist Games." However, she also noted in her memoir, "in Moscow, we walked into the mouth of a lion's den; it was the Russians' home turf." She went on to win two gold medals, one for the balance beam and one for the floor exercise (in which she tied with Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim, against whom she also competed in the 1976 Montreal Olympics). She also won two silver medals, one for the team all-around and one for individual all-around. Controversies arose concerning the scoring in the all-around and floor exercise competitions. Her coach, Bela Károlyi, protested that she was scored unfairly. His protests were captured on television, however, causing him to fall out of favor with members of the Romanian government, who felt that he had humiliated them. Life thus became very difficult for Károlyi from that point forward.

"Nadia '81"

Nadia Comăneci Moscow1980c
Comăneci on the balance beam, 1980

In 1981, the Gymnastics Federation contacted Comăneci and informed her that she would be part of an official tour of the United States named "Nadia '81" and her coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi would lead the group. During this tour, Comăneci's team shared a bus trip with American gymnasts, thus allowing her to meet Bart Conner for the third time—they had previously met at the American Cup and Montreal Games, both in 1976. She later remembered thinking, "Conner was cute. He bounced around the bus talking to everyone—he was incredibly friendly and fun." However, her coaches, Béla and Márta Károlyi defected on the last day of the tour, along with the Romanian team choreographer Géza Pozsár. Prior to defecting, Károlyi hinted a few times to Comăneci that he might attempt to do so and indirectly asked if she wanted to join him. At that time, she had no interest in defecting and said she wanted to go home to Romania. However, after the defection of the Károlyis, life changed drastically for Comăneci in ways she could not have predicted. Officials feared that she would also defect, and her actions were strictly monitored; she was no longer allowed to travel outside of Romania.

1984 Summer Olympics

The one exception to Comăneci's travel ban was her participation in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as part of the Romanian delegation. Although a number of Communist nations had boycotted the 1984 Olympics in tit-for-tat to the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Romania chose to participate. Comăneci later wrote in her memoir that many believed Romania went to the Olympics because an agreement had been made with the United States not to accept defectors. However, Comăneci did not participate in the Games as a member of the Romanian team. She served in the capacity of an observer (not a judge), and she was able to watch Bela Károlyi's new protégé, American gymnast Mary Lou Retton, dominate the Olympics. However, she was not allowed to speak with Károlyi and was closely watched the entire time.

1984–1990

Defection

Aside from the 1984 Olympics and a few select trips to Moscow and Cuba, the government prevented Comăneci from leaving Romania. She had started thinking about retiring a few years earlier, and her official retirement ceremony took place in Bucharest in 1984, and was attended by the chairman of the International Olympic Committee.

Five years later, on the night of 27 November 1989, and a few weeks before the Romanian Revolution, which she had no idea was about to happen, Comăneci defected with a group of other Romanians. Once it began, their dangerous overland journey (mostly on foot and at night) took her through Hungary, Austria, and finally to the United States.

1990–present

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Comăneci and her husband Bart Conner meeting First Lady Michelle Obama, 2009

Comăneci married Bart Conner in 1996 Bucharest. It was televised live throughout Romania, and their reception was held in the former presidential palace. Ten years after getting married, Conner and Comăneci had a son, Dylan.

Comăneci is a dual citizen of both Romania and the United States

In October 2017, an area in the Olympic Park in Montreal, Canada that was once referred to as the "Place des Vainqueurs," was renamed "Place Nadia Comaneci" in her honour.

Leadership roles

Nadia Comăneci at the 2012 BRD Năstase Țiriac Trophy
Comăneci at the BRD Năstase Țiriac Trophy, April 2012

Comăneci is a well-known figure in the world of gymnastics; she serves as the honorary president of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, the honorary president of the Romanian Olympic Committee, the sports ambassador of Romania, and as a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation. She and Conner own the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, the Perfect 10 Production Company, and several sports equipment shops, and are the editors of International Gymnast Magazine.

She is also still involved with the Olympic Games.

In addition, Comăneci is highly involved in fundraising for a number of charities. She personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comăneci Children's Clinic in Bucharest that provides low-cost and free medical and social support to Romanian children.


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