December 29, 2021 3 min read


Nadia Comăneci is a gymnastics icon. She made history as the first Olympic gymnast to achieve a perfect ten, and she didn’t stop there either. The remarkable Romanian gymnast went on to earn seven perfect scores over the course of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

Nadia was the first gymnast to perform an aerial walkover, aerial cartwheel-back handspring flight series, and double-twist dismount on the beam - making her as innovative as she was technical. Her powerful performances redefined the sport, and popularized gymnastics around the globe.

 

A star is born

Nadia Comăneci was born on November 12th, 1961, in Onești, Romania. She started gymnastics when she was six years old, and was quickly discovered by Bela Karolyi, who would become her long-time coach.

At the age of seven, Nadia entered her first official competition - the Romanian National Junior Championship - where she finished in thirteenth place. Just one year later, she returned to win the entire competition. By the time she was twelve, Nadia was living at a state-run gymnastics training school and working with Karolyi for eight hours a day, six days a week.

It quickly became clear that Nadia Comăneci was unstoppable. In 1975, she beat out the five-time European champion, Russia’s Lyudmila Turishcheva, at her first international senior competition. The next year, she won the American Cup in New York City, becoming the first woman to perform a backward double salto dismount from the uneven bars.

Then, Nadia qualified for the Olympics.

Nadia achieves perfection

At the age of 14, Nadia Comăneci did the unthinkable. After Nadia’s incredible routine on the uneven bars at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, the world held their breath while awaiting the scores.

But the scoreboards weren’t even equipped to handle what an amazing athlete Nadia was, only having three digits to display the scores. When 1.00 flashed across the screens, everyone knew history had been made.

Nadia Comăneci kept performing with effortless precision, earning a total of seven perfect scores and winning gold medals for balance beam, uneven bars, and the all-around individual competition. She also won a silver medal with her team, and a bronze medal for her floor exercise.

 

A national treasure

After her incredible success, Nadia was a world-wide star. Unfortunately, to the Romanian government, this made her a treasure worth protecting. When Nadia returned to Romania, she had Securitate agents (communist secret police) trailing her everywhere she went. They tapped her phones, intercepted her correspondence, and kept tabs on her and her coaches at all times.

At the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Comăneci earned two gold and two silver medals for Romania. She retired from gymnastics in 1984 - but still, the Securitate followed her.

 

A daring escape

Nadia Comăneci defected to the United States in November, 1989 - just one month before the fall of communism in Romania. This changed her life. “By the time I got to defect, I think that was the only time in my adult life when I had no fear,” said Nadia.

She married American gymnast, Bart Conner, became a U.S. citizen, and published two books, “Nadia” and “Letters to a Young Gymnast.”

In 1999, ABC News and Ladies’ Home Journal honored Nadia as one of the 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century. She was also given the World Sports Award of the Century, and was the second person inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

As a gymnastics coach and Global Ambassador for Special Olympics International, Nadia inspires athletes to reach their highest potential no matter where they come from, or what odds they are up against. Nadia shows us that if we are brave and determined, we can achieve the impossible.


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