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|— Gymnast —|
|Country represented||United States|
|Born||March 28, 1958|
|Hometown||Morton Grove, IL|
|Discipline||Men's artistic gymnastics|
|College team||University of Oklahoma|
|Head coach(es)||Paul Ziert|
Bart Conner (born March 28, 1958, in Chicago, Illinois) is an American former gymnast who, as a member of the gold medal-winning men's gymnastics team at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games won an individual gold on the parallel bars. Conner was also the 1979 World Champion on that apparatus.
Conner currently owns and operates the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Norman, Oklahoma along with his wife, Romanian gold medalist Nadia Comăneci. He is also a commentator for televised gymnastics events and an editor of International Gymnast Magazine.
Conner was also part of the 1976 and 1980 USA Olympic gymnastics teams. He won the World Cup in 1979, and the American Cup in 1976, 1980, and 1981. He has been inducted into several Halls of Fame, including those of the US Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, International Gymnastics and Oklahoma Sports. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2012.
Active in sports as a child, Conner started gymnastics at the age of ten, after a school physical education coach noticed his talent. He began training with the Niles West High School team and competing in local meets, where he progressed quickly but seldom won. After a few years, he also began training and competing at the local YMCA. Conner's first significant gymnastics victory was the 1972 AAU Junior Olympics, followed soon after in 1974 by the USGF Junior National Championships. Immediately following his high school graduation in 1976, he went on to join the United States team as its youngest member at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
He attended Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois. He was on the gymnastics team at Niles West, where he set records that remain unbroken. During his senior year at Niles West he was not allowed to compete, because he competed in the Olympics for his country and thus missed too many school days to be eligible.
Conner attended the University of Oklahoma to work with coach Paul Ziert on the gymnastics team, which was then ranked 19th nationally by the NCAA. In 1981, Conner won the Nissen Award (the "Heisman" of men's gymnastics).
According to Ziert, Conner is relatively unsuited physically for gymnastics due to his relative lack of spinal flexibility, and his weakness in tumbling skills. However, Ziert is quick to add, Conner's motivation and dedication to the sport combined with his other physical abilities helped him quickly advance to the world-class level. In 1979, he won the parallel bars event at the World Championships with an original move called the "Conner Spin." In this move, the gymnast performs a complete 360-degree turn on one bar in a straddled position, and then presses to a handstand.
Much of Conner's early career was seen as a rivalry between him and fellow American Kurt Thomas, another top competitor whose style differed from Conner's. Thomas, more physically gifted than Conner, impressed judges with his explosive strength and high degree of difficulty in his routines; Conner's strengths were in his solid consistency and artistic presentation. The media made much of this rivalry, and though the two were good friends, the publicity around their rivalry and media exaggeration incited ill feeling between them for a time.
Conner was the first qualifier for the 1980 Olympic gymnastics team and did not support the U.S. boycott of the Games. He made several media appearances in which he described the boycott as "futile" and protested the Olympics being used for political purposes. However, due to a torn biceps he suffered during the Olympic Trials, it is unlikely he would have performed well had he competed. Because he continued training after this injury, his recovery took more than a year. In December 1983, competing at the Chunichi Cup, Conner tore his left biceps during his rings routine. Due to several bone chips floating around his elbow, his arm mobility was limited, which placed undue stress on the muscles of the upper arm during the strenuous activities of competitive gymnastics.
Following surgery and intensive physical therapy, Conner qualified for the 1984 Olympic team after competing in only one of the two qualifying events: the Olympic Trials. He had tried to qualify in the earlier National Championships but several serious falters, including a headfirst landing on the floor exercise, made it clear that he had not yet made a full recovery. Conner was granted a petition by the USGF to consider only the Trials scores, with which he was selected for the team.
After intense training to return to the competitive level he had reached before his injury, Conner's consistently good scores (including a perfect 10 on the parallel bars) helped the US men's team earn its first team gold. Conner took sixth place in the individual all-around competition, with his total separated from gold medalist Koji Gushiken by .35 points.
He qualified for two individual event finals: floor exercise and parallel bars. He had a lackluster floor exercise, scoring a 9.75 for fifth place. In the parallel bars final just hours later, he scored a perfect 10 to win the event.
Former rival Kurt Thomas, who had retired from gymnastics, was a commentator for ABC Sports. Coach Paul Ziert saw his assessments of Conner's performance as being more fair and accurate than any others'.
After the Olympics
Conner and Nadia Comăneci were engaged on November 12, 1994, (Nadia's 33rd birthday), and married on April 27, 1996, in Bucharest, Romania. The couple first met at the 1976 American Cup, where Conner won the men's, and Comăneci the women's title. They reconnected in 1991, when Comăneci fled Romania. They currently own the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, Perfect 10 Production Company, and several sports equipment shops, and are editors of International Gymnast magazine. They also are heavily involved in charity work. Conner is also a gymnastics commentator, and accepts speaking engagements.
Conner became a father when Comăneci gave birth to their first child, a boy named Dylan Paul Conner, on the morning of June 3, 2006 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Dylan was born three weeks early, weighing in at just 4 lbs. However, Dylan left the hospital after a short stay and immediately thrived.
Conner appeared in films in 1986 and 2006. In 1986, he played a character named Bart in the cult BMX film Rad. In 2006, he appeared as himself in two movies about gymnastics, Stick It and Peaceful Warrior. Conner also appeared on the television series Make It or Break It as a World Championship commentator, along with his wife Nadia Comăneci, in the season 2 final episode in Rio.
Conner has long been associated with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, which raises private and corporate donations to fight neuromuscular diseases. Conner and his spouse make regular television appearances during the Labor Day telethon, both on the live national feeds, and in local broadcast segments from his hometown of Chicago on television station WGN-TV channel 9, which is also carried nationally on cable and satellite feeds through WGN America.
Conner has also been a longtime supporter of Special Olympics. He is currently vice-chair of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors.
- Oklahoma Heritage Association. "Oklahoma Hall of Fame." Retrieved December 8, 2012.
- "Bart conner". International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on February 26, 2009. Retrieved May 12, 2007.
- Conner, Bart, with Ziert, Paul (1988). Winning the Gold. New York:Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-51333-4
- Gray, Kevin. "Head over heels: for gold medal gymnasts Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner, love is something to flip for." People Weekly, March 27, 1996