Nadia Comaneci

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Biography of Nadia Comaneci, who has left her name and image indelibly in the memory of those who were lucky enough to see her at the Montreal Olympics, on July 18, 1976.

The extraordinary gymnast who amazed the world

That day, a delicate 14-year-old girl captured the admiration of everyone and her beautiful smile was reflected in the faces of those who were in the stadium or watching TV.

She made history by earning the first “10 Perfect” in an artistic gymnastics exercise at an Olympics. Since then, Nadia Comaneci has been a sports legend.

Nadia Comaneci
Nadia Comaneci in Montreal 1976. Credit: web Alfonso Zúñiga Catalán

Childhood and preparation of an extraordinary gymnast

Nadia Comaneci was born on November 12, 1961, in Romania, in a town called Oneste.

In Romanian, Nadia means Hope, a name given to her by her parents, Georghe and Stefania Comaneci.

When she was just six tender years old, she was recruited for the artistic gymnastics team in her hometown by coach Béla Károly (born 1942).

Béla Károly was 19 years old and Nadia Comaneci was one of his first disciples.

Marta, wife of Béla Károly was also a coach of the team. The training was hard and highly demanding, since the young coach had set very high goals.

When her trainers told Nadia to do five routines at the bar, she did seven.

Bela Karoli
Nadia Comaneci with Bela Karoly. Credit: Romanian Olympic Committee. Teodora Ungure me

Her first steps in gymnastics competitions

Nadia Comaneci began competing nationally in 1970, as a member of the team from her hometown, Oneste.

Nadia Comaneci y su copa
Nadia at 14 years old. Credit: Wikimedia

In 1974, at age 13, she had notable success at the European Gymnastics Championships in Norway: she won three gold and one silver medals.

A year later, in the Montreal pre-Olympic competitions, she beat the five-time Soviet champion with four individual victories.

And she was in the first position in the individual general classification.

That same year, the Associated Press chose her Athlete of the Year. The coaches Béla and Márta had polished a rough diamond, and had prepared the best gymnast of all time.

Nadia Comaneci triumphs internationally

In 1976 Nadia triumphed in New York. In addition to taking the victory in the Copa América, she became the first woman to perform the extremely difficult double fatality on her back, at the start of an asymmetric exercise.

Salto Nadia Comaneci
Nadia at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Credit: web esenciaymisterio

On July 18, 1976, a girl of 14 years and 30 kilos, wearing a white jersey and a ponytail, delighted all the fans with her graceful flights.

Nadia Comaneci performed incredibly beautiful and perfect exercises. The entire stadium went wild after 20 seconds of true magic.

However, the electronic scoreboard showed a “1.00”, absolutely incredible. The apparatus was not prepared to give the highest rating.

Immediately, the public address announced that the actual grade was “10.00”. Proud applause erupted again from the 18,000 spectators, celebrating the first perfect qualification in the history of women’s gymnastics.

Nadia Comaneci won her first Olympic gold. This rating of 10 perfect was the first of 10 other perfects she achieved.

On that July 18, 1976, this girl, a true prodigy of gymnastics, obtained seven high scores (10).

In addition, she obtained gold medals in the disciplines of asymmetric parallels and balance beam, as well as in the individual general.

The Romanian government rewards this great Gymnast

The Romanian government rewards this great gymnast.

Nadia returned to Romania consecrated as a star. She was made an icon and filled with honors by Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist regime.

They named her “heroine of socialist labor” and awarded a house, a car and a state salary.

The President of Romania and the President of the United States, in 1978. Credit: Wikimedia. White House USA

Nadia Comaneci focused on continuing to train and compete. She had to endure a strict control in her life by the authorities.

The pressure on her was maximum, because they did not want to waste any of the publicity that this extraordinary athlete gave them.

Nadia Comaneci continues reaping triumphs

In 1978, at the Strasbourg World Championship, Nadia obtained two other gold medals: one on the ground and one on the balance beam.

Nadia Comaneci 1977
Nadia Comaneci in October 1977, training at the Hastford Civic Center., USA. Credit: Wikipedia

During these years of competition at the highest level, she won the title of three-time champion of the full individual competition of the European Championship.

In addition, she was proclaimed two-time Olympic balance beam champion. She was five-time champion of the complete individual contest, in national championships.

At the 1980 Moscow Games, she continued to accumulate successes. Two golds and two more silvers closed her Olympic career.

In that same year 1980, her two coaches, Béla and Márta Karolyi, took advantage of a tour of the United States to defect from Romania.

Nadia Comaneci returned to her country; but she soon withdrew from high competition. Her last appearance in a major tournament was at the University World Championship that was held in Bucharest in 1981.

On that occasion, she won five gold medals. The Ceausescu regime feared that she might follow in the footsteps of her coaches and doubled surveillance on her.

Between 1984 and 1989, Nadia Comaneci was a member of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation. Then she dedicated herself to training the young gymnasts of her country.

Nadia Comaneci decided to flee Romania

In 1989, she fled Romania with the intention of taking refuge in the United States. One cold autumn night she left her house, crossed a forest along with five other strangers, and arrived in Hungary, from where she left for Austria.

From there, she was able to travel to the United States, where a new life began. She was 28 years old, her whole life ahead and she wanted to be free.

Nadia Comaneci begins a new life in the USA

In the United States, she worked promoting gymnastic equipment, lingerie, aerobics equipment, and wedding dresses.

Bart Conner
Bart Conner American gymnast specialized in bars, world champion in 1979. Credit: web german.fansschare

Before long, she was granted USA citizenship.

In 1994, she became engaged to American gymnast Bart Conner and returned to Romania for the first time after her flight.

A Spanish gymnast, Almudena Cid, in that year 1994, began to arouse the enthusiasm of the gymnasts’ admirers.

Nadia and Bart were married in Romania, in April 1996. She said: “Whenever I can, I go back and try to teach what I know about my sport and motivate new generations, encouraging them to continue with their careers and with what love”.

This great gymnast went out of her way in solidarity

Comaneci continues to be involved in sports: she is a member of some associations and federations.

She is also the founder of a philanthropic institution, and collaborates with other similar institutions, both in Romania and in the United States.

She is also a collaborator, together with her husband, of the magazine “International Gymnast“.

In 1999 Nadia Comaneci became the second athlete to receive an invitation to speak to the United Nations.

At the United Nations, she announced to the world that the year 2000 was proclaimed “International Year of Volunteering”.

Year of Volunteering 2001
Year of Volunteering 2001

In December 2003, she published her first book: “Letters to a Young Gymnast“.

On the occasion of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, she participated as a commentator on the team of the “Televisa” chain in Mexico.

She repeated her experience at the Olympic Games in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. In these two events she participated with her expert comments on the discipline of gymnastics.

Her accredited experience notably captured the attention of viewers towards the Mexican channel.

On June 3, 2006, she gave birth in Oklahoma City to her first child, whom she named Dylan Paul.

Currently, Nadia Comaneci continues to be linked to the world of gymnastics and is involved in various charities around the world.

She and her husband own the Conner Gymnastics Academy and some sports equipment stores.

Both publish the International Gymnast Magazine.

Nadia Comaneci is currently Vice President of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics. In addition, she is Honorary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation.

She holds the position of Honorary President of the Romanian Olympic Committee. The government appointed her Ambassador of Sports for Romania. She is also Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Association for Muscular Dystrophy.

In addition, she is a member of the Foundation of the International Federation of Gymnastics.

She has twice received the award of the Olympic Order from the International Olympic Committee, and has launched, in Bucharest, a Charity Clinic that helps orphaned children.

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