|— Gymnast —|
Comăneci in 2010
|Full name||Nadia Elena Comăneci|
|Country represented||Romania (Socialist Republic of Romania)|
November 12, 1961 |
Onești, Socialist Republic of Romania
|Height||5 ft 3.5 in (1.61 m)|
|Discipline||Women's artistic gymnastics|
|Gym||National Training Center|
|Former coach(es)||Béla Károlyi
|Eponymous skills||Comăneci salto (uneven bars)|
Nadia Elena Comăneci (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈnadi.a koməˈnet͡ʃʲ] ( listen); born November 12, 1961) is a Romanian gymnast who, at the age of 14, "became the first gymnast in Olympic history to be awarded the perfect score of 10.0" at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. She would eventually go on to receive six more "perfect 10s" in Montreal as well as three gold medals. A few years later, she won two gold medals at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Comăneci is one of the best-known gymnasts in the world and is credited with popularizing the sport around the world. In 2000, she was named as one of the Athletes of the 20th Century by the Laureus World Sports Academy.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Early gymnastics career
- 3 1976
- 4 1977–1979
- 5 1980-2000s
- 6 2000s – Present
- 7 Awards
- 8 Special skills
- 9 Book
- 10 In popular culture
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Cited sources
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
Nadia Elena Comăneci was born in Onești, Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains on November 12, 1961, the daughter of Gheorghe, an auto mechanic, and Stefania, a housewife. She and her younger brother Adrian were raised in the faith of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Comăneci grew up in the Socialist Republic of Romania, when Romania was under a Marxist-Leninist one-party Communist rule government. While it was a Soviet-aligned Eastern Bloc state during the Cold War (from 1947 to 1989), it was not a part of the Soviet Union.
Early gymnastics career
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 her and a friend 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 7 years old, in 1968. She was one of the first students at the gymnastics school established in Onești by Béla and his wife, Márta. Unlike many of the other students at the Károlyi school, Comăneci was able to commute from home for many years because she lived in the town.
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 would prove to be one of her greatest rivals over the next five years.
In March 1976, Comăneci competed in the inaugural edition of the American Cup at Madison Square Garden in New York City. She received rare scores of 10, which signified a perfect routine without any deductions, on vault in both the preliminary and final rounds of competition and won the all-around. It was during this event that 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 both participated in the 1976 Summer Olympics which Comăneci dominated while Conner was a marginal figure. Conner later stated that "Nobody knew me, and [Comăneci] didn’t certainly pay attention to me."
Comăneci also received 10s in other meets in 1976, including the Chunichi Cup competition in Japan, where she posted perfect marks on the vault and uneven bars.
Montreal Summer Olympics
"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.
At the age of 14, Comăneci made history at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. During the team compulsory portion of the competition on July 18, her routine on the uneven bars received a perfect ten (and a gold medal), the first time in modern Olympic gymnastics history that the score had ever been awarded. When Omega SA, the traditional Olympics scoreboard manufacturer, asked before the 1976 games whether four digits would be necessary for gymnastics, it was told that a perfect 10.00 was not possible. Nadia's perfect marks were thus displayed as 1.00 instead. The crowd was at first confused, but soon understood and gave her a rousing ovation.
Over the course of the Montreal games, Comăneci would earn six additional tens. She also won a gold medals for the individual all-around and the balance beam. She also won a bronze for the floor exercise and a silver as part of the team all -around. Her main rival during the Montreal Olympics was the Soviet athlete, Nellie Kim, who became the second gymnast to receive a perfect ten (after Comăneci) for her performance on the vault.
Comăneci's achievements are pictured in the entrance area of Madison Square Garden in New York City, where she is shown presenting her perfect beam exercise.
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. With the revised age-eligibility requirements in the sport (gymnasts must now turn 16 in the calendar year to compete in the Olympics; in 1976 gymnasts had to be 14 by the first day of the competition), it is currently not possible to break this record legally. 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's success led her to be awarded the "Sickle and Hammer Gold Medal", and named a "Hero of Socialist Labor"; she was the youngest Romanian to receive such recognition during the administration of Nicolae Ceaușescu.
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-ten 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.
Comăneci successfully defended her European all-around title in 1977, but when questions about the scoring were raised, Ceaușescu ordered the Romanian gymnasts to return home. The team followed orders and controversially 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 to train at the August 23 sports complex. The change was not positive for Comăneci. She was extremely unhappy and her gymnastics suffered. 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 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.
Comăneci was chosen to participate in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a city which was part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (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 (a number of 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 notes in her memoir that "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, whom she also competed against in the 1976 Montreal Olympics). She also won two silver medals, one for the team all-around and one for individual all-around. There were, however, controversies over the scoring in the all-around and floor exercise competitions. Her coach Bela Károlyi protested as he believed 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.
In 1981, The Gymnastics Federation contacted Comăneci and told her that she would be part of an official tour to the United States they planned to call "Nadia '81," led by her coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi. It was during this tour that Comăneci's team shared a bus trip with American gymnasts, thus allowing her to meet up with Bart Conner for the second time (since their first meeting in 1976). She later remembered thinking that 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. After the defection of the Károlyis however, life changed drastically for Comăneci in ways she could not have predicted. As officials feared she would also defect, her actions were strictly monitored, and she was no longer allowed to travel outside of Romania.
The one exception was when Comăneci was told that she would be attending the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as part of the Romanian delegation. Although a number of Communist nations boycotted the 1984 Olympics (in response 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. Her role at the games was as a spectator, not a participant, and it was in this capacity that she was able to observe Bela Károlyi's new student, American gymnast Mary Lou Retton dominate the Olympics. However, she was not allowed to speak with Károlyi, and was closely watched the entire time.
Aside from that journey, and a few select trips to Moscow and Cuba, Comăneci was forbidden to leave the country for any reason. Although Comăneci had begun to think about retiring a few years earlier, her official retirement ceremony took place in Bucharest in 1984 and was attended by the chairman of the International Olympic Committee. She later wrote in her memoir: "Life took on a new bleakness. I was cut off from making the small amount of extra money that had really made a difference in my family's life. It was also insulting that a normal person in Romania had the chance to travel whereas I could not [...] when my gymnastics career was over, there was no longer any need to keep me happy. I was to do as I was instructed, just as I'd done my entire life [...] If Bela hadn't defected, I would still have been watched, but his defection brought a spotlight on my life, and it was blinding. I started to feel like a prisoner."
Five years later, on the night of November 27, 1989, a few weeks before the Romanian Revolution (which she had no idea was about to happen), Comăneci defected with a group of other Romanians. They were all guided by Constantin Panait, a Romanian who was now an American citizen after defecting, and whom Comăneci had met at a party given by a friend of hers. In the years since Béla Károlyi's defection to the United States, she had changed her mind on the subject and met a number of Romanians at the party who talked about it. Comăneci notes in her memoir that her first impression of Panait was a positive one as "he seemed nice, and he was believable because he was now an American." Later after meeting Panait, her brother Adrian told her that "Constantin was the real deal. He wasn't bluffing. There were six other Romanians who planned to trust him with their lives." Comăneci then began a long period of planning for her escape. Once it began, their dangerous overland journey (mostly on foot and at night) took her through Hungary, Austria, and finally to the United States.
After she had arrived in the United States with Panait, Comăneci states that "Constantin told me that I was going to live with his wife and children for a bit. I never questioned him." Her arrival initially generated some negative press however, as a result of the media's misrepresentation of her relationship with Panait. Comăneci later stated in her memoir that her response of "so what?" to a reporter's comment that Panait was married was due to her poor command of the English language at the time: "Constantin had offered to help me defect, and I'd accepted. I assumed that his wife knew that he was going to help a handful of Romanians get out of the country and that I was one of them. But what people took from my answer was that I was a home-wrecker. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In hindsight, I understand that I'd made a very poor choice of words. Constantin had plans to become my personal manager upon our arrival in the United States. I didn't know that, but he promised to help me get settled, and I guess I just accepted his involvement in my future career as fair payment for the risks he'd taken. People died every day trying to defect."
After her arrival, Comăneci notes in her memoir that "old friends" such as Béla Károlyi and Bart Conner "strained to learn the news of my plans. They tried to contact me by telephone but Constantin did not relay their messages." When Conner read in the newspaper that she was scheduled to appear on the The Pat Sajak Show in January 1990 with Panait, he wondered "why it was still impossible for any friends to contact" Comăneci. As he had worked for NBC Sports as a host during the previous Olympics, he knew the producer Michael Weisman (who had since moved to CBS) and contacted him to inquire about Comăneci's upcoming interview. They discussed the "fact that none of [her] old friends had been able to see or contact" Comăneci and Conner was worried (given the bad press that she had been given) that "something fishy" was going on. Weisman was thus able to arrange for Conner to make a guest appearance on the show if he could be in Los Angeles by taping at 5pm. Conner liked the idea of surprising Comăneci: "I'm thinking if she's going to be on Sajak, I might as well go out there and say, 'Hey, Nads,' "  His plane arrived at LAX at 4:40pm and he was flown by helicopter to CBS Studios, landing by the time of a commercial break. After appearing on the show with Comăneci and Panait, Conner met with Comăneci in the green room, later saying of the meeting: "I think I can understand why Nadia said what she did ... She said, 'He (Panit) is my manager. We don't have a relationship, so it doesn't matter if he's married or not.' But it came off really awful. She regrets it, and I don't think she realized how misunderstood she would be. She really got burned. She said the Miami media was really not nice to her." Conner gave Comăneci his telephone number but at the time, Comăneci who was "shy and suspicious of him [...] also sensed that he was being open and honest. For a second, I was tempted to ask for help...I needed to move on and find a better life for myself. Bart told me later that he tried to call me after the show, but Constantin never let me know of his calls." Of Conner's sudden appearance on the show, Comăneci later commented in her memoir: "There was nothing romantic about [Conner's] motivation. It was based on his desire to help a young woman he'd met once who was an icon in our shared sport."
Later in the same year, Alexandru Stefu (another old friend from Romania) invited Comăneci and Panait to Montreal, Canada where he was staying with his family and with Béla Károlyi. Comăneci notes in her memoir that after they arrived in Montreal, and "when he finally had an opportunity to get me alone, Alexandru asked what was next for me. I told him that I was thinking about staying in Montreal but hadn't yet mentioned the idea to [Panait] because he'd already booked us on a flight back to Los Angeles. The next day, Alexandru sent me to meet with the director of the Olympic stadium, who told me that I could do some exhibitions and appearances for him [...] When I woke up the next morning and went downstairs, Alexandru told me that [Panait] was gone. I never heard from him again, but I hope he is well and thank him for his help. I realize that our business relationship may have tarnished my name and image, but I safely escaped from Romania, and that is truly what was most important. There wasn't too much time to figure out why [Panait] had left because very soon after his departure, CNN contacted me." Shortly thereafter in the spring of 1990, Conner came to see her once again, this time in order to interview her for ABC. A few months later, Stefu surprised Comăneci by inviting Conner to her 29th birthday party, after which they developed a long distance friendship for a few years. When Stefu died in a scuba diving accident over the Labor Day weekend in 1991, Conner invited Comăneci to come to Oklahoma to help him run a gymnastics school. After moving there, she stayed in a room in the home of Conner's gymnastic's coach, Paul Ziert. Eventually, Ziert became her manager. In addition, she and Conner were friends for a while before they developed a relationship, and were together for four years before they became engaged.
Conner and Comăneci married in Bucharest on April 27, 1996. The ceremony was broadcast live in Romania, and the reception was held in the former presidential palace. In an interview years later, she recalled, "It was very emotional, not just seeing my mother but seeing an entire country I’d left. When I got married in Bucharest there were 10,000 people on the street. People didn’t go to work that day. It was emotional to see how people care about you."  She became a naturalized citizen of the United States on June 29, 2001. She also retained her Romanian citizenship, making her a dual citizen. The couple welcomed their only child, a son named Dylan Paul Conner, on June 3, 2006.
2000s – Present
In the world of gymnastics, Comăneci is the honorary president of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, the honorary president of Romanian Olympic Committee, sports ambassador of Romania, and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation. She and her husband 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. Additionally, Comăneci and Conner have provided television commentary for many gymnastics meets, most recently the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. One of her perfect-10 Montreal uneven bars routine was featured in a commercial for Adidas that ran during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Conner and Comăneci have one child, a son named Dylan Paul Conner who was born on June 3, 2006, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Comăneci is active in many charities and international organizations. She has personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comăneci Children's Clinic, a clinic in Bucharest that provides low-cost and free medical and social support to Romanian children. In 2003 the Romanian government appointed her as an honorary consul general of Romania to the United States to deal with bilateral relations between the two nations.
She has also been participated in reality shows. On August 10, 2007, she was a "mob" participant on the American version of the game show 1 vs. 100, and was not eliminated until the last 20 members of the mob were left. In January 2008, she was one of the contestants in the celebrity edition of Donald Trump's television program The Apprentice.
Comăneci was the featured speaker at the 50th annual Independence Day Naturalization Ceremony on July 4, 2012, at Monticello (Virginia). She was the first athlete to speak in the history of the ceremony.
On July 21, 2012, Comăneci, along with former basketball star John Amaechi, carried the Olympic torch to the roof of the O2 Arena as part of the torch relay for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
The international community took note of Comăneci, and she was named the United Press International Athlete of the Year Award (female winners) for 1975 and 1976. She also received the Olympic Order, the highest award given by the International Olympic Committee, in 1984 and 2004. She is the only person to have received this honor twice, and was also the youngest recipient. She has also been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Comăneci is known for her clean technique, innovative and difficult original skills, and her stoic, cool demeanor in competition. On the balance beam, she is the first gymnast to successfully perform an aerial walkover and an aerial cartwheel-back handspring flight series. She is also credited as being the first gymnast to perform a double-twist dismount. Her skills on the floor exercise included a tucked double back salto and a double twist.
In popular culture
Nadia is a 1984 unauthorized made-for-television biopic directed by Alan Cooke about Comăneci. Comăneci had nothing to do with the production of the film (the content of which was described to her by others). She stated at the time of its release that those involved with the film "never made contact with me ... I sincerely don't even want to see it, I feel so badly about it. It distorts my life so totally.
She was shown in Marie Claire magazine's "The 8 Greatest Moments for Women in Sports".
She is the subject of a chapter of the book No More Worlds to Conquer by Chris Wright (2015), which asks how she moved on in life when her career could be said to have peaked at the age of 14.
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- Short Film Eternal Princess, Directed by Katie Holmes, Debuts on espnW
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nadia Comăneci.|
- Official website
- Nadia Comăneci at the Internet Movie Database
- Nadia Comăneci on Facebook
- Nadia Comăneci on Twitter
- 8 of the most impressive Olympic feats of all time: Nadia Comăneci. Business Insider, August 20, 2016.
- WATCH: Will Smith and Christian Slater Surprise Olympic Legend Nadia Comăneci, -Will Smith and Christian Slater, People, August 18, 2016.
- Eternal Princess – 2015 ESPN documentary on Comăneci directed by Katie Holmes
- Nadia Comăneci – First Perfect 10 | Montreal 1976 Olympics (overview) – The Olympic Channel
- Montreal 1976 Official Olympic Film – Part 3 | Olympic History – The Olympic Channel (Comăneci appears beginning around 17:25; includes footage of gymnasts Nellie Kim and Olga Korbut)
|Awards and achievements|
|United Press International
Athlete of the Year
|BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year
Billie Jean King
|Flo Hyman Memorial Award