Nadia Elena Comăneci, one of the world's best-known gymnasts, who was the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10.0 during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, has around nine Olympic medals and four World Championship medals to her name. Here are some interesting facts about the Romanian gymnast:
She was born Nadia Elena Comaneci, on November 12, 1961, in Onesti, Romania. She is the eldest of two children to Gheorghe and Stefania Comaneci. She has younger brother Adrian.
She was first spotted with potential when BelaKarolyi was looking for gymnast he could train from a young age. He saw her and friend do cartwheels with ease in a school yard. She was six years old then.
She was one of the first students at the gymnastics school in Onesti established by Bela and his wife Marta.
In 1970 she became the youngest gymnast ever to win the Romanian National and a year later she won her first international competition in the junior meet between Romanian and Yugoslavia. She won the all-round title.
In 1973, as an eleven year old she won the all-round gold as well as the vault and uneven bar titles at the Junior Friendship Tournament.
Comaneci made her debut in the major international meet at the age of 13 participating in the 1975 European Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Championship. She won four gold and silver.
She started dominating at the Romanian National Championships and was the second best to Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim at the pre-Olympic test event in Montreal. She won the all-round and balance beam gold.
The American Cup at Madison Square Garden, New York City, on March 1976, was a significant event in her life. She scored a rare perfect score of 10 on the vault in both preliminary and in the final round. She also met American gymnast Bart Conner during this event.
Aged 14 years, Comaneci became the first person to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics. She was awarded score of 10 on the uneven bars event in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Her score of 10 was believed to be impossible and hence the score board was not programmed to display it.
She is known for her clean, innovative and difficult original technique. She was the first gymnast to successfully perform an aerial walkover with cartwheel-back handspring flight series and double twist dismount.
She won three gold medals for theuneven bars, Balance beam and Individual all-round. She also won bronze for floor exercise and silver as part of team all-round. Comaneci dominated the games with seven score of 10, overshadowing Olga Korbut of Soviet Union.
Comaneci became the youngest Olympic gymnastics all-round champion ever at 14 years. The record in all probability will stand with the revised age-eligibility requirement. She is also the first Romanian to win the Olympic all-round title.
With her overwhelming success at the Olympics, she was awarded the ‘1976 BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year’ and ‘Associated Press’s 1976 ‘Female Athlete of the Year.’
In Romania, she was awarded the ‘Sickle and Hammer’ gold medal for her Olympic success and named a ‘Hero of Socialist Labor.’ She was the youngest Romanian to receive such recognition.
The musical score of the film ‘Bless the Beasts and Children’ titled ‘Cotton’s Dream’ became synonymous with Nadia Comaneci after ABC’s sports summary program Wide World of Sports used it as background music for her routine. The composer renamed it as ‘Nadia’s Theme’ in her honor.
During the 1977 European Championship, doubts were raised over scoring after she had won the gold medal for all-round title. The Romanian authorities ordered the gymnast to return home in protest and the team walked out the competition during the finals.
In 1977, she was separated from her longtime coach Karolyis, by the gymnastic federation to train at the sports complex. She was upset and her gymnastic suffered. Although she won gold and silver at the 1978 World Championship, she felt bit saturated.
In 1979, Comaneci became the first gymnast male or female to win her third consecutive all-round title at the European Championship. Earlier she was permitted to return to Deva to train with coach Karolyis.
At the 20th Artistic Gymnastic Championship held at Fort Worth, U.S in 1979, she helped Romania to its first team gold medal despite being injured. She was injured with a cut in her wrist from metal grip buckle after the compulsory competition. She spent several days recovering after a minor surgical procedure.
At the 1980 Moscow Olympics, she won two gold medals for the balance beam and floor exercise. She also won two silvers for the individual all-round and team all-round. There was a protest from her coach who felt she was unfairly scored in the floor and all-round competition.
After her coach Bela and Marta Karolyi defected during 1981 tour of United States named ‘Nadia 81,’ her life underwent change and was not allowed to travel abroad.
Although there was an exception for her travelsuch as when she attended the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, it was as an observer and not as a gymnast. She was not allowed to speak to her former coach Karolyi.
In 1984, she was officially retired with a ceremony held in Bucharest, which was attended by the Chairman of the International Olympic Committee. After the end of her gymnastic career she was not allowed to make extra money to support her family and was monitored with lot of restrictions. She started feel like a prisoner.
On November 27, 1989, with the help of Constantin Panait, she defected to United States. She along with six other gymnasts journeyed on foot at night which took her through Hungary, Austria and finally to U.S.
On her arrival to U.S, she was staying with Panait, which raised some negative press which further raised some controversy when she responded ‘so what’ to a reporter’s comment that Panait was married. She had very poor command over English at that time.
On April 27, 1996, she married her longtime friend Bart Conner in Bucharest. The reception was held at former presidential palace which was very emotional. She was very happy to see her mother and the country she had left. The couples have a son, Dylan.
In 2001, she was made a naturalized U.S citizen and holds dual citizenship of both Romania and United States. She is the first athlete to address at the 50th annual Independence Day Naturalization Ceremony on July 04, 2012.
Comaneci is the honorary president of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and the Romanian Olympic Committee. She is also the sports ambassador of Romania.
She and her husband Conner own the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, the perfect 10 production company and several sports equipment shops. They are also the editors of ‘International Gymnast Magazine.
She personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comaneci Children’s Clinic in Bucharest that provide low cost and free medical to children.