Nadia Comăneci at the 1976 Summer Olympics
|Full name||Nadia Elena Comăneci|
|Born||12 November 1961|
|Height||5 ft 4 in (1.63 m)|
|Discipline||Women's artistic gymnastics|
|Gym||National Training Center|
|College team||Politehnica University of Bucharest|
|Former coach(es)||Béla Károlyi|
|Eponymous skills||Comăneci salto (uneven bars)|
Nadia Elena Comăneci (UK: /( )/, US: /
Comăneci is one of the world's best-known gymnasts and is credited with popularizing the sport around the globe. In 2000, she was named as one of the Athletes of the 20th Century by the Laureus World Sports Academy. She has lived in the United States since 1989 and is married to American Olympic gold medal gymnast Bart Conner.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Early gymnastics career
- 3 1976
- 4 1977–1979
- 5 1980–1984
- 6 1984–1990
- 7 1990–present
- 8 Leadership roles
- 9 Honors and awards
- 10 Special skills
- 11 Book and films
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
Comăneci was born to Gheorghe (1936–2012) and Ștefania Comăneci, and has a younger brother. Her parents separated in the 1970s, and her father later moved to Bucharest. She and her younger brother Adrian were raised in the faith of the Romanian Orthodox Church. In a 2011 interview, Nadia's mother Ștefania said that she enrolled her daughter into gymnastics classes simply because she was a child who was so full of energy and active that she was difficult to manage. Comăneci graduated from Politehnica University of Bucharest with a degree in sports education that gave her the qualifications to coach gymnastics.
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 a friend and her 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 seven 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 was 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 Manhattan. She received rare scores of 10, which signified a perfect routine without any deductions, for her vault in the preliminary stage and for her floor exercise routine in the final of the all-around competition which she went on to win. During this event, 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 participated in the 1976 Summer Olympics that Comăneci dominated while Conner was a marginal figure. Conner later stated, "Nobody knew me, and [Comăneci] didn't certainly pay attention to me."
Summer Olympics in Montreal
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.
On 18 July 1976, Comăneci made history at the Montreal Olympics. During the team compulsory portion of the competition, she was awarded the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics for her routine on the uneven bars. However, Omega SA—the traditional Olympics scoreboard manufacturer— was led to believe that it was impossible to receive a perfect ten, thus the scoreboard was not programmed to display that score. Comăneci's perfect 10 thus appeared as "1.00," the only means by which the judges could indicate that she had indeed received a 10.
During the remainder of the Montreal Games, Comăneci earned six additional tens. She won gold medals for the individual all-around, the balance beam and uneven bars. She also won a bronze for the floor exercise and a silver as part of the team all-around. Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim was her main rival during the Montreal Olympics; Kim became the second gymnast to receive a perfect ten for her performance on the vault. Comăneci also took over the spotlight from Olga Korbut, who had been the darling of the 1972 Munich Games.
Comăneci's achievements are pictured in the entrance area of Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, 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. The sport has now revised its age-eligibility requirements. Gymnasts must now turn 16 in the same calendar year of the Olympics to compete during the Games. When Comăneci competed in 1976, gymnasts had to be 14 by the first day of the competition. It is not currently possible to legally break this record. 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 was awarded the Sickle and Hammer Gold Medal for her success, and she was 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-10 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 were raised about the scoring, Ceaușescu ordered the Romanian gymnasts to return home. The team followed orders amid controversy and 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 on August 23 to train at the sports complex. The change was not positive for Comăneci. Her gymnastics skills suffered, and she was unhappy to the point of losing the desire to live. After surviving a suicide attempt, 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 in Fort Worth 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.
1980 Summer Olympics
Comăneci was chosen to participate in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a city that was part of the 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 (several 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 noted in her memoir, "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, against whom she also competed in the 1976 Montreal Olympics). She also won two silver medals, one for the team all-around and one for individual all-around. Controversies arose concerning the scoring in the all-around and floor exercise competitions. Her coach, Bela Károlyi, protested 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 informed her that she would be part of an official tour of the United States named "Nadia '81" and her coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi would lead the group. During this tour, Comăneci's team shared a bus trip with American gymnasts, thus allowing her to meet Bart Conner for the third time—they had previously met at the American Cup and Montreal Games, both in 1976. She later remembered thinking, "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. However, after the defection of the Károlyis, life changed drastically for Comăneci in ways she could not have predicted. Officials feared that she would also defect, and her actions were strictly monitored; she was no longer allowed to travel outside of Romania.
1984 Summer Olympics
The one exception to Comăneci's travel ban was her participation in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as part of the Romanian delegation. Although a number of Communist nations had boycotted the 1984 Olympics in tit-for-tat 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. However, Comăneci did not participate in the Games as a member of the Romanian team. She served in the capacity of an observer (not a judge), and she was able to watch Bela Károlyi's new protégé, 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 the 1984 Olympics and a few select trips to Moscow and Cuba, the government prevented Comăneci from leaving Romania. She had started thinking about retiring a few years earlier, and 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 27 November 1989, and 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 one of her friends. In the years since Béla Károlyi's defection to the United States, she had changed her mind on the subject until she 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, "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.
United States and Canada
After she had arrived in the United States in 1989 with Panait, Comăneci stated, "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.
Comăneci further noted in her memoir that during this period, "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 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 received) 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 5 pm. 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.' "
Conner's plane arrived at LAX at 4:40 pm; he was flown by helicopter to CBS Studios and landed during 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 (Panait) 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 1990, Alexandru Stefu (another old friend from Romania) invited Comăneci and Panait to Montreal, where he was staying with his family and Béla Károlyi. Comăneci noted 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.
In the spring of 1990, Conner traveled to Montreal to see her once again, this time 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. In 1991 (after Stefu died in a scuba diving accident), Comăneci moved to Oklahoma to help Conner with his school. She lived with Paul Ziert's family, eventually hiring him as her manager.
Comăneci and Conner were initially just friends, and they were together for four years before they became engaged. Their 1996 wedding was held in Bucharest. It was televised live throughout Romania, and their reception was held in the former presidential palace. Comăneci later described the experience as
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.
Comăneci is a dual citizen of both Romania and the United States (she became a US citizen in 2001). She was later the featured speaker at the 50th annual Independence Day Naturalization Ceremony on July 4, 2012, at Monticello (Virginia), the first athlete to speak in the history of the ceremony.
Comăneci is a well-known figure in the world of gymnastics; she serves as the honorary president of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, the honorary president of the Romanian Olympic Committee, the sports ambassador of Romania, and as a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation. She and Conner own the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, the Perfect 10 Production Company, and several sports equipment shops, and are the editors of International Gymnast Magazine.
She is also still involved with the Olympic Games. During the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, one of her perfect-10 Montreal uneven bars routines was featured in a commercial for Adidas. In addition, both Comăneci and her husband Bart Conner provided television commentary for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. A few years later, 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. Prior to the 2016 Summer Olympics games in Rio de Janeiro (featuring gymnast Simone Biles), Comăneci appeared in a TIDE advertisement called "The Evolution of Power" with Biles and 1996 Summer Olympics gymnast Dominique Dawes. She also offered daily analysis of the 2016 games (along with other Olympic champions such as Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis, and Conner), for the late-night show É Campeão, broadcast on Brazil's SporTV.
In addition, Comăneci is highly involved in fundraising for a number of charities. She personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comăneci Children's 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. In addition, both Comăneci and Conner are involved with the Special Olympics. One method Comăneci tried to use to raise funds for charity was to participate in Donald Trump's reality show, The Celebrity Apprentice, season seven. Comăneci was a member of "The Empresario" team (all women), which lost to "The Hydra" team (all men) in the second episode. Trump responded to this loss by firing Comăneci, thwarting that plan. Comăneci later commented on her participation in the show, stating, "[she] had great fun. I only did it because it was all for charity."
Honors and awards
- 1975 and 1976: The United Press International Athlete of the Year Award
- 1976: Hero of Socialist Labour
- 1976: Associated Press Athlete of the Year
- 1976: BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year
- 1983: The Olympic Order
- 1990: International Women's Sports Hall of Fame
- 1993: International Gymnastics Hall of Fame
- 1998: Marca Leyenda
- 1998: Flo Hyman Award
- 2004: The Olympic Order
- 2016: 2016 Great Immigrant Honoree: Carnegie Corporation of New York
Comăneci was known for her clean technique, innovative and difficult original skills, and her stoic, cool demeanor in competition. On the balance beam, she was 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.
Book and films
- Comăneci's 2004 memoir, Letters to a Young Gymnast, is part of the Art of Mentoring series by Basic Books.
- Katie Holmes directed a short 2015 documentary for ESPN about Comăneci entitled, Eternal Princess, that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
- In 2016 Arte France produced a Pola Rapaport documentary about Comăneci entitled, Nadia Comăneci, la gymnaste et le dictateur (Nadia Comăneci: The Gymnast and the Dictator).
- In 1984, Comăneci was the subject of an unauthorized biopic television film Nadia. The film was developed without her involvement or permission (although the content was described to her by others). She later stated publicly that the producers "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."
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- 2016 Great Immigrants Honorees: The Pride of America
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nadia Comăneci.|
- Official website
- Nadia Comăneci on IMDb
- Voices of Oklahoma interview with Bart Conner. First person interview conducted on February 28, 2013, with Bart Conner, husband of Nadia Comăneci.
- Nadia Comăneci makes history at the Montreal 1976 Olympics – The Olympic Channel, 2010
- Nadia Comăneci – First Olympics Perfect 10 (Uneven Bars)- Montreal 1976 Olympics – The Olympic Channel, 2015
- Nadia Comăneci – Selections from all of her routines – Montreal 1976 Olympics (overview) – The Olympic Channel, 2012
- The Adorable Way This Olympic Couple First Met | Where Are They Now | Oprah Winfrey Network – Oprah Winfrey Network (U.S. TV channel), 2016
- Nadia Comaneci & Bart Conner Commentate on Their Perfect Olympic Routines | Take the Mic – The Olympic Channel, 2016
- Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner, 11 Olympic Medals in this Olympic Family – The Olympic Channel, 2016
|Awards and achievements|
| United Press International
Athlete of the Year
| BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year
Billie Jean King
| Flo Hyman Memorial Award