Nadia Comăneci

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Nadia Comăneci
— Gymnast —
Nadia Comaneci 1976 Paraguay stamp2.jpg
Nadia Comăneci at the 1976 Montreal Olympics (1976 Paraguayan stamp)
Personal information
Full name Nadia Elena Comăneci
Country represented  Romania
Born (1961-11-12) November 12, 1961 (age 54)
Onești, Romania
Height 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m)
Discipline Women's artistic gymnastics
Years on national team Romania
Gym National Training Center
Former coach(es) Béla Károlyi
Márta Károlyi
Choreographer Geza Pozsar
Eponymous skills Comăneci salto (uneven bars)
Retired 1981

Nadia Elena Comăneci (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈnadi.a koməˈnet͡ʃʲ]; 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.[1] 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. Married to fellow Olympian Bart Conner, Comăneci was named as one of the Athletes of the Century by the Laureus World Sports Academy.[2]

Early life[edit]

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.[3] She and her younger brother Adrian[4] were raised in the Romanian Orthodox Church.[5] She later graduated from Politehnica University of Bucharest with a degree in Sports Education which qualified her to coach gymnastics.[6]

Early gymnastics career[edit]

Comăneci began gymnastics in kindergarten with a local team called Flacăra ("The Flame"), with coaches Duncan and Munteanu.[7][8] 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.[9][10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[12][13]

Comăneci's first major international success came at the age of 13, when she nearly swept the 1975 European 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.[12]

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.[14] 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. [15] 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."[16]

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.[17]

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.

1976 Montreal Summer Olympics[edit]

"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.

— —Sports Illustrated, 1976[10]
A 1976 Romanian stamp of Comăneci.

At the age of 14, Comăneci made history at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. 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),[18][19] the first time in modern Olympic gymnastics history that the score had ever been awarded.[20] 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.[21] Nadia's perfect marks were thus displayed as 1.00 instead.[22] The crowd was at first confused, but soon understood and gave her a rousing ovation.[20]

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.[23]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.[24]

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[25]), it is currently not possible to break this record legally. She was the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year for 1976.[26] Back home in Romania, Comăneci's success led her to be awarded the "Sickle and Hammer Gold Medal",[27] and named a "Hero of Socialist Labor"; she was the youngest Romanian to receive such recognition during the administration of Nicolae Ceaușescu.[7]

Nadia's Theme (1976)[edit]

Nadia's Theme refers to an instrumental piece that became 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.[28] 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.[10]


Nadia Comăneci during her practice session for an appearance at the Hartford Civic Center. (October 1977)

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.[7][29]

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.[7][30] 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.[21] 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.[21]

After the 1978 "Worlds", Comăneci was permitted to return to Deva and to the Károlyis.[31] 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.[32][33][34]

1980 Moscow Summer Olympics and retirement[edit]

Comăneci participated in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, where she received two gold medals, one for the balance beam and one for the floor exercise (in which she tied with Nellie Kim). 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.[21] After the 1980 Olympics, Comăneci decided to retire from competition, doing so in 1981. Her official retirement ceremony took place in Bucharest in 1984 and was attended by the chairman of the International Olympic Committee.[22]



Comăneci grew up in the Socialist Republic of Romania, when Romania was under a Marxist-Leninist one-party Communist rule that existed officially from 1947 to 1989. During her 1981 gymnastics exhibition tour in the United States, [35] her coaches, Béla and Márta Károlyi defected, along with the Romanian team choreographer Géza Pozsár.[36] Thus, after her return to Romania, Comăneci's actions were strictly monitored, as officials feared she would also defect. She was granted leave to attend the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles but was watched during the entire trip. Aside from that journey, and a few select trips to Moscow and Cuba, Comăneci was forbidden to leave the country for any reason.[22] "Life..." she wrote in her autobiography, "took on a new bleakness," making her determined to find a way to leave Romania (despite the fact that her passport had been taken away from her).[37]

On the night of November 27, 1989, a few weeks before the Romanian Revolution (which she had no idea was about to happen), Comăneci likewise defected with a group of other Romanians who were all guided by Constantin Panait (a Romanian exile). Her dangerous overland journey (mostly on foot and at night) took her through Hungary, Austria, and finally to the United States.[7][23][38] Her arrival initially generated some negative press however, as a result of the media's misrepresentation of her relationship with Panait. Comăneci later stated 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. She was attempting to communicate that he was only her business manager, a position that had nothing to do with his marital status.[39]

Bart Conner[edit]

In January 1990, Comăneci was scheduled to appear on the The Pat Sajak Show with Panait. Former American Olympic champion Bart Conner learned about the interview and contacted Sajak stating that he wanted to be on the show as well.[40] Conner wanted to surprise Comăneci: "I'm thinking if she's going to be on Sajak, I might as well go out there and say, 'Hey, Nads,' " [40] He was thus invited to appear on the show, but had to arrive in Los Angeles by the time taping would begin at 5pm. 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." After their joint appearance, Conner and Comăneci did not see each other again for awhile.[40]

Later in 1990 she and Panait traveled to Montreal, Canada, (where her Romanian coaches Béla Károlyi and Alexandru Stefu where living). It was during this period in Montreal that Comăneci separated from Panait and once again reconnected with Conner. Comăneci married Conner in Bucharest on April 27, 1996. The ceremony was broadcast live in Romania, and the reception was held in the former presidential palace.[23][41] 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." [42]

Conner and Comăneci have one child, a son named Dylan Paul Conner who was born on June 3, 2006, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.[43][44]


Nadia Comăneci at the 2012 BRD Năstase Țiriac Trophy, April 22, 2012

Comăneci is active in many charities and international organizations. In 1999, she was the first athlete to be invited to speak at the United Nations to launch the Year 2000 International Year of Volunteers. She is currently on the International Board of Directors for the Special Olympics and is vice president of the Board of Directors of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.[23][45] She has also 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.[22] 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.[46]

On June 29, 2001, Comăneci became a naturalized citizen of the United States. She also retained her Romanian citizenship, making her a dual citizen.[7]

In December 2003, Comăneci's book Letters to a Young Gymnast was published, a combination of a mentoring book and a memoir. The book answered questions that she received in letters from fans. She has also been the subject of several unofficial biographies, television documentaries, and a made-for-television film, Nadia, that was broadcast in the United States shortly before the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.[47]

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[23] and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.[48]

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.[49]

Katie Holmes directed a short 2015 documentary for ESPN about Comăneci entitled, Eternal Princess, that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.[50]


Comăneci 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.[51]

Special skills[edit]

Comăneci is known for her clean technique, innovative and difficult original skills, and her stoic, cool demeanor in competition.[10][52][53] 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.[10][52] Her skills on the floor exercise included a tucked double back salto and a double twist.[52]

Eponymous skills[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  • Comăneci, Nadia (2004). Letters to a Young Gymnast (Art of Mentoring). Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0. 


  1. ^ Gymnast Nadia Comăneci Became the Queen of the 1976 Montreal Games when she was Awarded the First Perfect Score.
  2. ^ "Nadia Comăneci". CNN. July 7, 2008. 
  3. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 p.4
  4. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 5
  5. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 p.5
  6. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 p.94
  7. ^ a b c d e f Whatever Happened to Nadia Comăneci? Barbara Fisher and Jennifer Isbister, 2003, Gymnastics
  8. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg.
  9. ^ Nadia Comaneci (2011). Letters to a Young Gymnast. Basic Books. pp. 17–19. ISBN 978-0-465-02505-3. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Deford, Frank. "Nadia Awed Ya". Sports Illustrated. August 2, 1976.
  11. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 19
  12. ^ a b c List of competitive results Gymn-Forum
  13. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 27–28
  14. ^ "Gymnast Posts Perfect Mark" Robin Herman, New York Times, March 28, 1976.
  15. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 p.53
  16. ^ "The Adorable Way This Olympic Couple First Met". Oprah: Where Are They Now?. 2016. Retrieved 2016-08-19. 
  17. ^ "Scores for 1976 Chunichi Cup". Gymn Forum. 2001-01-09. Archived from the original on 2009-01-08. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  18. ^ Nadia Comaneci's perfect 10 | Countdown to Rio 2016
  19. ^ "Biography: COMANECI, Nadia". U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Retrieved July 17, 2011. 
  20. ^ a b Cousineau, Phil (2003). The Olympic Odyssey: Rekindling the True Spirit of the Great Games. Quest Books. pp. 160–161. ISBN 0835608336. 
  21. ^ a b c d "50 stunning Olympic moments No5: Nadia Comaneci scores a perfect 10". The Guardian. December 14, 2011. Retrieved July 31, 2012. 
  22. ^ a b c d Ziert, Paul (2005). "Still A Perfect 10" (PDF). Olympic Review. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-06-27. Retrieved 2013-06-13. 
  23. ^ a b c d e Legends: Nadia Comăneci International Gymnast magazine
  24. ^ Nellie Kim (URS)
  25. ^ "Within the International Federations" (PDF). Olympic Review. 1980. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-08-08. Retrieved 2013-06-13. 
  26. ^ Dodd, Marc (1 August 2008). "Top Five: Teenage Sensations". Metro. Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  27. ^ "Decretul nr. 250/1976 privind conferirea de distinctii ale Republicii Socialiste Romania unor sportivi, antrenori si activisti din domeniul educatiei fizice si sportului" (in Romanian). Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Nadia Comăneci: The Perfect 10" International Olympic Committee (IOC) website
  29. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 61–62
  30. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 64–68
  31. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 68–72
  32. ^ "Nadia." The Epistle, (All Saints Episcopal Hospital), January 1980
  33. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 87–91
  34. ^ Little Girls in Pretty Boxes. Ryan, Joan. 1995, Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47790-2
  35. ^ "Miss Comăneci, 19, Makes Fresh Start". Ira Berkow, New York Times, March 6, 1981
  36. ^ Little Girls in Pretty Boxes. Ryan, Joan. 1995, Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47790-2 pg. 201
  37. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0
  38. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 137–148
  39. ^ "Comăneci Says Live-in Is Manager". Chicago Tribune. 1989-12-13. Retrieved 2016-08-19. 
  40. ^ a b c Rohde, John (1990-01-24). "Bart Gets The Scoop On Nadia". The Oklahoman. Retrieved 2016-08-19. 
  41. ^ "Nadia Tumbles over Wedding" Cincinnati Post, April 6, 1996
  42. ^ Rebecca Hardy (August 1, 2014). "The terrifying day I defected: She was the golden girl of gymnastics at just 14 - before fleeing Romania for the States. Now, Nadia Comăneci tells her full harrowing story". DailyMail. 
  43. ^ "Nadia Comăneci, Bart Conner Have a Boy People, June 6, 2006
  44. ^ "Former Gymnasts Nadia Comăneci and Bart Conner Baptized Their First Child, Dylan Paul" Catalina Iancu, Jurnalul National, August 28, 2006
  45. ^ "MDA's Perfect 10s" Muscular Dystrophy Association
  46. ^ Honorary Consulates of Romania in the US Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  47. ^ shobha aradhya (June 11, 1984). "Nadia (TV Movie 1984)". IMDb. 
  48. ^ Roenigk, Alyssa (August 17, 2008). "The First Family of Gymnastics". ESPN The Magazine. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  49. ^ "Trump's celebrity 'Apprenti' revealed" Gina Serpe, E! News, November 19, 2007
  50. ^ Short Film Eternal Princess, Directed by Katie Holmes, Debuts on espnW
  51. ^ "Nadia Comaneci". International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. 2006. Archived from the original on 2008-06-04. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  52. ^ a b c "A Great Leap Backward" Anita Verschoth, Sports Illustrated, April 12, 1976
  53. ^ "The Games: Up in the Air" Time, August 2, 1976
  54. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0, p. 1
  55. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0, p. 15

External links[edit]

Video Clips:

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Irena Szewińska
United Press International
Athlete of the Year

1975, 1976
Succeeded by
Rosemarie Ackermann
Preceded by
Arthur Ashe
BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year
Succeeded by
Niki Lauda
Preceded by
Billie Jean King
Flo Hyman Memorial Award
Succeeded by
Bonnie Blair