Nadia Comăneci was a name that became internationally famous when she ended up doing the unimaginable during the Montreal Olympic Games back in 1976. She managed to break more than one world record over the course of the competition. However, it is no laughing matter to get into the Olympics and especially out of Socialist Romania. This is the story of one amazing woman.
The Early Days
On November 12, 1961, Nadia Elena Comăneci was born in Onesti, Romania to Stefania and Gheorghe Comăneci. The Romanian Orthodox couple had been excited to welcome their first child in the family. They would have a son not long after this.
Hope For Nadia
Nadia’s name had come from a movie that the lovebirds watched during Stefania’s pregnancy. In the film, the main character was called “Nadya”. The name translated to the word “hope”. It was the perfect name to give their daughter, the star of this story.
Full Of Life
Young Nadia had been an incredibly energetic kid who had no qualms about jumping around the house. Gheorghe and Stefania wanted to give her the positive outlet she needed. This was the reason they signed her up for gymnastics. Little did they know that this decision would change their lives.
“I was driven towards something I wanted to be the best at, and I didn’t know exactly what it was, it happened to be gymnastics,” Nadia once said. She had been a young girl with the desire to do something and achieve greatness.
During one recess at school, six-year-old Nadia and her fellow kindergartener had been doing cartwheels in the yard. That was the moment they caught the attention of married couple Marta and Bela Karolyi. The two of them were local gymnastics coaches who had been looking around for talented youth. They were impressed by what they saw and tried to recruit the two kids for the school they ran.
Bela Karolyi had always been a big sports person. He started out as a hammer-throwing champion but was also a junior boxing coach at some point. He later got into gymnastics with Marta, his wife. Together, the two of them started looking for young talent.
Bela was successful in the recruitment of Nadia and began to train her for 3 hours every day. Both Bela and Marta were impressed by her form and her motivation! What does that mean? Well, no matter how much she failed, she never failed to get back up and give it another shot.
Ups And Downs
The rigid training routine gave Nadia Comăneci the chance to join the Romanian National Junior Championship at the age of 8. She placed 13th during that competition, much to her dismay. Nonetheless, she did not lose hope and began to work even harder than before. With the training of her coach, she returned to the competition the following year and won first place!
Practice Makes Perfect
Bela Karolyi knew that practice made perfect. He was glad to find out that the young girl had the same sentiments. By the time she was 13 years old, she was already training with her coach 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. They were both aiming for greatness. With hard work, they knew they could do it.
Never Too Much
When she was all grown up, Nadia got a question about whether she thought the Karolyis overtrained her when she was younger. She told them that it was nothing like that. When she was told to perform the exercises, Nadia was actually the one to insist on doing more than what Bela told her. She wanted to be the best and was ready to put the work into it.
Gold and Silver
Europe was introduced to the promising star back during the 1975 European Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Championships held in Skien, Norway. She earned the gold medal for all her performances except for one, though she got a silver in that one. At the age of 13, she already blew away the spectators.
The American Cup
It came to time for her to make her worldwide debut. Nadia Comăneci then competed during the American Cup in 1976, which served as her trial run for the Summer Olympics held in Montreal, Canada. The teenager was already taking the world by storm with her perfect scores.
Of course, it was natural for the awarding ceremony to follow such an excellent display of talent. They gave out silver cups to a male and female gymnast. Nadia Comăneci was one of the winners, whereas Bart Conner from the States got the other one. Their first meeting was important for both of them.
Photographers flocked the two to capture a photo of them together. “Kiss for the cameras, please!” one journalist shouted. Bart Conner, the 18-year-old gymnast from the United States, did not hesitate to go and plant a kiss on the cheek of his 14-year-old counterpart. They looked adorable together, which led to her new popularity among Americans.
Four months later, Nadia made a name for herself in Montreal this time. The judges all watched in amazement as the young girl dominated the stage during the 1976 Olympic Games. Her flawless performances even broke world records. She got a score of 10 for her routine. Not only that, but she also managed to get six more awards throughout the competition. Nadia Comăneci was the first person to achieve such a thing during the Olympics.
Confusion In The Crowd
Omega SA, the manufacturer of the Olympics digital scoreboards, did not believe it would ever come to this point. After all, no one ever achieved a score of “10” before, which is why the scoreboards have not been programmed to show a “10”. What showed up was “1.00” instead. No one understood what it meant in the beginning, though they eventually figured it out.
It was only after several years later that curious fans got to know how she felt at the moment it dawned on her. She admitted, “I didn’t know I was making history when I got the 10.” According to her, she did not like looking at scoreboards when she performs.
The Perfect “10”
During the confusion, Bela Karolyi got angry. He recounts the moment he saw what the scoreboards said: “I said ‘holy cow, they deducted something over here, there is a deduction, there is a penalty,’ I was on my way to the jury, then I heard, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, first time in the history of the sport, a perfect 10 in the Olympic Games.’”
For Now And Always
Nadia Comaneci was the youngest person to break a record for gymnastics in the history of the Olympic Games. This is not going to change anytime soon, if ever. Why is that? Well, the Olympic Committee eventually decided that participants had to be at least 16 years old to participate in the games.
After the perfect scores and the awarding sessions, one official asked the young girl what she thought about the scores she received. Over one billion people tuned from different parts of the globe watched as the teenager said, “It’s okay. I’ve gotten 19 golds in other competitions.” This endeared her to all.
In With The New
Olga Korbut of the former Soviet Union got to enjoy four years as the “darling” of the games after her excellent performance at the 1972 Olympic Games held in Munich. However, she would have to leave her pride behind during the next of these competitions. After all, she had to make way for the new girl in town.
A New Hero
This was the first time that this young girl experienced an achievement as great as this one. When she got off the plane, she was surprised to find more than a thousand people holding up signs and cheering her on. She got so overwhelmed by this that she decided to run back inside the airplane!
When she got back to Romania, Nadia Comăneci received a hero’s welcome. After all, there was no other athlete who hailed from the country who achieved what she had. The administration of Nicolae Ceaușescu decided to honor her with the “Sickle and Hammer Gold Medal” and dubbed the young girl a hero of “Socialist Labor”. According to rumors, her family also got a month-long vacation and a car.
Dedications To Nadia Comăneci
In 1976, a cinematographer by the name of Robert Riger created a video montage of the gymnast that had her performing to the 1971 song “Cotton’s Dream”. Composed by Perry Botkin, Jr. and Barry De Vorzon, the hit would always be associated with Nadia. That same year, it even found its way to the top 10 hit list. It was later renamed to “Nadia’s Theme”.
Athlete Of The Year
Dedication songs were only the beginning. Newsweek Magazine later printed a picture of her in full color. It was accompanied by this caption: “A Star Is Born”. Meanwhile, BBC called her “Overseas Sports Personality of the Year”. For Associated Press, she was the “Female Athlete of the Year”. “She might have been young, but Nadia Comăneci” became a household name.
Nadia Comăneci even graced the cover of Time Magazine despite the fact that a Mars space mission was the talk of the town. Instead of giving the important mission its own issue, the magazine simply put it in a corner of the cover while she got majority of the page real estate.
Nadia did not only master the known moves during the competition, but she also created moves of her own! They were later called the “Comăneci dismount” and the “Comăneci salto”. Aside from mastering various steps and moves, she also created new ones.
Things looked like they were going great for the young girl. Her popularity continued to grow, and her career continued to boom, although she was about to get some bad news. Her parents were getting divorced! As you can imagine, it was difficult for both Nadia and her little brother.
That was not the only unfortunate piece of news awaiting her. Romanian sports officials decided that Bela Karolyi, her coach, should stop training her and coach other aspiring gymnasts. He had been her coach since she was a little girl, so you can see why she was so heart-broken about this decision. It made her go on a downward spiral.
At the age of 15, everything happening in her life seemed to much to bear. For the first time ever, Nadia Comăneci did not have the motivation to go to the gym and train. She even landed in the hospital thanks to her high stress levels. She was not equipped to handle everything life served her.
Keeping To Herself
There were certain commentators and other gymnasts who called Nadia “an emotionless gymnast”. In reality, there were absolutely no truth to this claim. Nadia was actually an emotional person, although she chose to keep it all to herself. According to Bela Karolyi, “she kept everything inside.” It seems like she was too young to handle all the pressure that was handed to her.
Time To Restart
The Romanian sporting officials eventually realized they made a mistake by separating Nadia and Bela. It only hindered her progress and health. They soon reinstated Bela as the coach of the young girl. However, the reunion happened near the Olympics, which was going to be in Moscow. Nonetheless, they were glad to be together once more.
In 1979, Nadia suffered an accident while performing at the World Championships. A metal grip buckle caused a cut on her wrist! The doctors who saw to her told her to skip the rest of the games. However, she was headstrong and defied the instructions. She still managed to win gold for the team!
Moscow Summer Olympics
Although Nadia and Bela did not have a lot of time to train, they maximized the 5 weeks they had left before they were shipped off to Russia. The fact that it was held in the Soviet Union caused several issues. For one thing, the United States refused to send representatives as a way to protest the invasion of Afghanistan. However, Russians had another thing to worry about in the form of Nadia Comăneci.
Hecklers In The Crowd
The world got to know the talented young gymnast once again. Nadia Comăneci was so determined and focused that she did not even notice all the hecklers in the audience. Intoxicated Russian soldiers went as low as to shout, “Fall, Nadia! Fall!” Even though she did not train as much as she could have for the competition, she still managed to bag four medals. She earned two golds and two silvers!
Nadia impressed the world once more with her impeccable performance, but there was controversy yet again. Bela Karolyi, her coach, noticed that it was taking conspicuously long for the judges to present his student’s score. When they showed up, he did not think it was what she deserved. He made a big fuss about it, which was shown on air. Apparently, his behavior humiliated the country, and he started to worry about his safety when it was time to go home.
Although the Moscow incident was still fresh in everyone’s mind, Nadia Comăneci still managed to get a gold medal and the respect of her competitors. Nellie Kim of the USSR even kissed and congratulated her on the podium. She tried to dispel the rumors about Nadia being emotionless and came to her defense. This was what Kim said: “She was psychologically prepared, not emotionless.”
Escaping The Grip
The Gymnastics Federation launched a tour across the United States called “Nadia 81” in 1981. The tour spanned 11 cities across the country and showed off the Romanian athlete to crowds of adoring fans. This offered Bela a chance to look for safety as well since he defected to the US. Once again, this would leave a negative emotional impact on the young girl.
No Way Out
Their government soon became worried that their star gymnast would do the same thing and defect to the US. That was the reason they created a travel ban for her. They also monitored and checked her phone calls and letters. They only lifted the ban when she competed in Cuba and Europe.
Throwing In The Towel
In 1984, Nadia made the decision to quit competing. She did not leave the sport entirely, however. Instead, she chose to become the national gymnastics coach for Romania. Her new position would allow her to travel to different parts of the globe to attend competitions.
The New Girl
In the same year, she flew to Los Angeles with the team to represent Romania during the 1984 Olympic Games. However, she got a huge shock when she found out who was the American team’s coach. It was none other than Bela Karolyi, her old coach. If that was not hard enough to swallow, she also noticed he had taken a talented new gymnast under his wing. Her name was Mary Lou Retton.
Mary Lou Retton
Now, let us take a closer look at the new girl. Born on January 24, 1984, Mary Lou Retton was passionate about the sport. In an ironic turn of events, Nadia was actually the gymnast who made her consider the sport. She was particularly impressed by her Montreal Olympic Games performance in 1976. She eventually found herself training under Bela and Marta Karolyi.
It came as no surprise that Mary Lou Retton would also achieve greatness now that the Karolyis were coaching her. During the 1984 Olympics, she was the first non-Eastern European woman to take home the individual all-around gold. Retton was able to do this by overshadowing Ecaterina Szabo of Romania.
Although Nadia did not hold a grudge against her old coach, she still felt rather hurt by how things turned out. To make things even worse, the Romanian government also forbade her from communicating with Bela in anyway. That was when she realized it was time to leave the country.
Hope On The Horizon
During a party she attended in 1987, Nadia got to know an interesting person who said he escaped Romania and has since become a US citizen. The man called Constantin Panait, and he would be a huge figure in the next chapter of Nadia’s life.
The Only Chance
Nadia trusted Panait since he managed to obtain US citizenship. He told her that he could assist her in doing the same thing. According to him, they could leave Romania by going through Austria and Hungary. Although it was dangerous, Nadia desperately wanted to leave Romania. In 1989, they made it to the States after first going to Canada. The “Romanian Revolution” happened only weeks later.
When it dawned upon her that she needed to inform her family about her plans, she felt torn. Initially, she was worried that her mother might suffer a heart attack. After receiving reassurance from her younger brother, Nadia decided that she had to go and escape.
A Close Call
The journey was not at all an easy one. Can you believe that almost got caught when they got to the Hungarian border? They were spotted by a bunch of patrolmen. Upon recognizing who Nadia was, they let her go without any hassle whatsoever. Whew! It could have gone very wrong for them at that point.
A Mixed Reception
When they finally made it the United States, no one was surprised to hear of her arrival. Journalists flocked the Olympic legend and asked about her future plans. She managed to answer them with a wonderful smile and broken English. There were Americans who were told negative things about her and remained unsure whether they should welcome. However, most people were thrilled to have her.
When Bela Karolyi heard the news that his former student was in the States, he tried to get in touch with her right away. A lot of other people tried to do the same, yet none of them succeeded. They didn’t know why at the time. The truth was that Constantin Panait was not keeping the messages to himself.
Life Of Mystery
With her poor command of the language, Nadia was more comfortable at the side of Constantin Panait. Even though he was a married man, she stayed with him at roadhouses and motels. The media tried to ask Nadia about the arrangement. She only told them “It’s a secret” and stuck her tongue out at them!
A Friend In Need
It was during a visit to Canada that a close friend of hers by the name of Alexandru Stefu asked her what was going on between her and Panait. That was when Nadia confessed she was being held against her will. After a confrontation between Stefu and Panait, the latter skipped town and took a lot of her money. However, Nadia still feels thankful that Panait took her to America.
Bart Conner Returns
Before the confrontation between the two men, Nadia went on the Pat Sajak Show. After hearing that the gymnast was going to appear on the show, Bart Conner flew in on a chopper to reach the studio as fast as he could. Bart was excited to see her after so long and wanted to surprise her.
Meeting Nadia Comăneci
For him, seeing her again was a huge moment. The two of them first met at the 1976 American Cup, which was the time he boldly gave her a kiss on the cheek as they held their silver cups up for the press.
By All Means
The flight he took landed at 4:45 PM, but the show was due to begin at 5 PM. He had the presence of mind to get a helicopter to take him to the studio. He definitely worked hard on the surprise.
Bart Conner arrived at the studio with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. He then approached Nadia Comăneci and kissed her on the cheek once again! This time, he went for the other cheek for good measure. The audience members cheered for them. After all, it has been a long time since the first kiss.
For Nadia, Bart was just a regular nice guy. During the 1976 Olympic Games, she recounted that he was “bouncing” from one person to another during the bus ride and chatting everyone up. She did not know that he was already developing a crush on her even back then!
More than A Date
After spending time together in what would be considered dates, the two realized they had feelings for each other. They began dating and did so for 4 years. It all came to an end when Bart finally proposed!
The two of them went over the Atlantic Ocean to get married in her home country of Romania. She felt a little nervous as she did not know how her countrymen felt about her after she defected to the States. You can imagine her surprise when she found out 10,000 people were there to greet her!
The Whole Nation
The two of them tied the knot in 1996. The day was considered a national holiday, and they even aired the ceremony on TV. You can see why a lot of people considered it to be “the royal wedding of sport”.
It was in 2006 that Bart and Nadia welcomed the birth of Dylan Paul, their first son. The two was gradually building a family of their own in the US. When Isabelle Kumar asked her if she identified as American or Romanian, this was the answer she gave: “I am a Romanian, but I am adopted by America.”
A Secret Wonder
It did not take long before little Dylan learned who exactly his parents are. After coming home from a day at school, he asked his mother, “Do you know that you’re famous?” Nadia only giggled and answered in the affirmative before showing him pictures of his parents back in the day.
Young And Old
Nadia finally got to experience the happiness she deserved. In 2016, she even showed everyone how she felt by expressing it on Twitter. She posted an image of 10-year-old Dylan with Martha Karolyi, the wife of her former coach. The Karolyis are truly the ones who helped Nadia come this far. According to her, that meeting made it feel like life has finally come “full circle”.
A couple of years after the Olympic Games that brought Bela Karolyi, Mary Lou Retton and Nadia Comaneci all together, the three of them met up. Retton posted this lovely photo on social media. The caption read, “Two of my heroes!” That was how everyone knew that there was no bad blood there.
Nadia Comăneci And Caitlyn Jenner
It is interesting to hear that both Nadia Comaneci and Caitlyn Jenner participated in the 1976 Olympic Games held in Montreal. However, the gold medalists did not get to meet back then. The track and field star said, “Gymnastics finished before Track and Field started, so I was already gone by the time she competed.” The two of them first met in 2016 and got along right away.
Nadia Comăneci And Arnold Schwarzenegger
Nadia got a pleasant surprise at her local gym. Apparently, Arnold Schwarzenegger spotted her, approached her, and asked her for a couple of training tips! The former governor of California posted a photo of them with this caption: “It is fantastic to get to the gym early and have an Olympic champion as your trainer – thanks Nadia Comaneci! 10 reps to honor the first perfect 10 score in the Olympics.”
Although their sporting days are long over, Nadia and Bart managed are still active in the sports scene. In 2008, the two of them actually served as the commentators for the gymnastics events of the Beijing Summer Olympics! Isn’t that amazing?
After the Olympic Committee took note of how well the couple worked together, they came up with a great idea and executed it. They set up a big screen in a studio and provided the cameras and headsets. They then showed the couple videos of their very own performances during the past Olympic Games. Nadia and Bart proceeded to commentate on each other’s routines!
Running With Fire
The Olympic couple also had the honor to run the Olympic torch in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Torch Relay held in Oklahoma. As you can see here, the two of them had a blast during the special event.
The Olympic Torch
An entire decade after that, Nadia got the chance to carry the torch once more in London. The former basketball player John Amaechi served as her partner this time around instead of her loving husband.
As you might have noticed, Nadia remains in fantastic shape. A lot of people want to find out her secret. Aside from eating a healthy diet, she also regularly goes to the gym and focuses a lot on stretching.
Ten For Ten
Nadia Comaneci probably has more money to her name than we do. Do you want to hear how much her net worth is? All right, then. She has an estimated net worth of around $10 million, apparently. Of course, that is not the only thing we should focus on when talking about someone so amazing.
The Girl Next Door
In her hometown, the same place she got her start as a junior gymnast, there exists a building dedicated in her honor. The “Memorial Nadia Comaneci Montreal” was erected as a tribute to the Olympian and the incredible performance she delivered so many years ago.
Letters To A Young Gymnast
Would you be interested to read a book all about Nadia and her story? If you said ‘yes’, you should go and check out “Letters To A Young Gymnast”. It is her biography, and it talks about her life in detail.
Nadia Comăneci And Katie Holmes
Arnold Schwarzenegger was not the only person fascinated with her. Actress Katie Holmes worked on a movie called “Eternal Princess” to show us Nadia’s incredible life story in the film format. Go watch it!
A Lot In Common
The movie directed by Holmes did not only serve as tribute to the life of the Olympian, but it was also a way to connect to her more personally. The two of them must have realized they actually had a number of things in common. Both of these ladies became big stars when they were young, experienced both failure and fame, and stayed in relationships with controlling men.
Jacqueline Joseph is a director who collected some of the best athletes across different sports to create his 2016 documentary. Called “Winning”, it was about the triumphs and troubles of stars like Martina Navratilova, Jack Nicklaus, Edwin Moses, and Esther Vergeer. Of course, it is a no-brainer that it also involved Nadia Comaneci.
Visiting The White House
In 2014, Bart and Nadia received a warm welcome from President and First Lady Barack Obama and Michelle themselves. It was only a couple of months before the Special Olympics, so their visit to the White House earned a lot of interest from the general public.
The Special Olympics
Bart and Nadia both wanted to help out with the Special Olympics. They got involved by becoming ambassadors to the event! They went around the world to gather financial help and other support for the participants. It was a good cause, and we are proud of them for doing their part.
Nadia Comăneci and Donald Trump
Nadia went on the celebrity edition of Donald Trump’s show The Apprentice to help raise the funds they needed for the Special Olympics. She did not make it all the way to the end, yet she had a good experience. Nadia explained, “I had great fun. I only did it because it was all for charity.”
However, this Olympic couple did not stop there. The two of them also volunteered for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which aims to provide both services and research for people suffering from neuromuscular disease. Bart and Nadia are simply amazing human beings!
Apart from the numerous projects Nadia works on with Bart, she has taken on quite a few of them all by herself. One of these undertakings would be the “Nadia Comăneci Children’s Clinic”, which she opened in Bucharest. This clinic offers free or cheap social and medical services to the children of Romania.
The Youth Is The Future
If you ask us Nadia, she will tell you that sport is a great outlet for the high energy of children. She knows this better than anyone else! According to her, it offers them a “structure” with which they could learn discipline and measure achievement.
Her influence was not bound to end with her final appearance in the Olympic Games. It was in 1999 that ABC News placed her on their list of ‘100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century’. In the same vein, The International Association of Sports Writers put her on their list of the ‘25 Outstanding Sports People of the 20th Century’.
Fairytale Or Fate
In an interview, someone finally asked Nadia the question some of you must be wondering. They asked Nadia if she ever felt like her life was one fairytale. We quite liked the way she answered it. She said, “I don’t want my life to be scripted, it becomes too cheesy. I brought motivation to my generation and the generation after me. You should never give up when it gets hard.”
Connecting The Dots
The interviewer was none other than Isabelle Kumar. The journalist then went on to ask Nadia what she would like to change about everything if she had the power to do so. You would not believe the answer Nadia gave. According to the gymnast, she would not be the same person she is if it had not been for all those hardships she underwent. For it, it was merely a matter of “connecting the dots”.
Inspiring Young Lives
Do not worry, Nadia Comaneci remains passionate about gymnastics to this day. She has even decided to take her passion to the limelight once more by helping youths find the motivation to excel in the sport. She has shown everyone that one can achieve greatness when one works hard for it. Her story taught us not to give up and to try once more whenever we fail. We should always look for the motivation to redeem ourselves another time and give it our all to become the best possible version of ourselves.