Nadia Comăneci

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Olympic medalist
Nadia Comăneci
Medal record
Women's Artistic Gymnastics
Gold 1976 Montreal All-around
Gold 1976 Montreal Uneven bars
Gold 1976 Montreal Balance beam
Gold 1980 Moscow Balance beam
Gold 1980 Moscow Floor exercise
Silver 1976 Montreal Team competition
Silver 1980 Moscow Team competition
Silver 1980 Moscow All-around
Bronze 1976 Montreal Floor exercise

Nadia Elena Comaneci (originally Comăneci /ko.mə'neʧʲ/) (born November 12, 1961) is a Romanian gymnast, winner of five Olympic gold medals, and the first to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event. She is one of the most well-known gymnasts in the world and, along with Olga Korbut, is credited with popularizing the sport around the world.

Early life

Comaneci was born in Oneşti, Romania, on 12 November 1961 as the daughter of Gheorghe and Ştefania-Alexandrina. Comaneci's pregnant mother was watching a Russian film in which the heroine was called Nadya, the shortened version of the Russian name Nadyezhda (which means, literally, "Hope"). She decided that her daughter would be named Nadia, too. Comaneci has a younger brother named Adrian.

Early gymnastics career

Comaneci began gymnastics at the age of 6, after coach Béla Károlyi spotted her and a friend turning cartwheels in a schoolyard. She was one of the first students at the gymnastics school established in Onesti by Béla and his wife, Marta, who would later defect to the United States and become coaches of many prominent American gymnasts. Unlike many of the other students at the Károlyi school, Comaneci was able to commute from home for many years because she lived in the area.

Comaneci began competing as a member of her hometown team in 1970. 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 additional dual meets with nearby countries such as Hungary, Italy and Poland.

Comaneci'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 in other meets in 1975, 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, Comaneci 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. The international community took note of Comaneci: The Associated Press named her its 1976 "Female Athlete of the Year".

Montreal Olympics

At the age of 14, Comaneci became one of the stars of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. During the team portion of the competition, her routine on the uneven bars was scored at a 10.0. It was the first time in Olympic gymnastics history that the score, which signified a perfect routine without any deductions, had ever been awarded. The scoreboards were not even equipped to display scores of 10.0--so Nadia's perfect marks were reported on the boards as 1.00 instead. Over the course of the Olympics, Comaneci would earn six additional 10s, en route to capturing the all-around, beam and bars titles and a bronze medal on the floor exercise. The Romanian team also placed second in the team competition.

Comaneci was the first Romanian gymnast to win the all-around title at the Olympics. She also holds the record as the youngest Olympic gymnastics all-around champion ever; with the revised age-eligibility requirements in the sport (gymnasts must now turn 16 instead of 15 in the calendar year to compete in the Olympics), this record will stand indefinitely.

Comaneci's achievements at the Olympics generated a significant amount of media attention. The theme song from the American soap opera The Young and the Restless became associated with her after the television program ABC Wide World Of Sports used it as background music for montages of her routines. The song became the best seller of the year 1976, and the song writer renamed it to " Nadia's Theme" after her. However, Comaneci 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.

She was the 1976 BBC Sports Personality of the Year in the overseas athletes category. Back home in Romania, Comaneci's success led her to be named a " Hero of Socialist Labor", she was the youngest Romanian to receive such recognition during the reign of Nicolae Ceauşescu.


Comaneci successfully defended her European all-around title in 1977, but when questions about the scoring were raised, Ceauşescu ordered the Romanian gymnasts to return home. The team followed orders and controversially walked out of the competition during the event finals.

An overweight and out of shape Comaneci showed up at the 1978 World Championships. A fall from the uneven bars resulted in a 4th place finish in the all-around behind Elena Mukhina, Nellie Kim, and Natalia Shaposhnikova, but Comaneci won the beam title.

In 1979, a newly slim and motivated Comaneci won her third consecutive European all-around title, becoming the first gymnast, male or female, to achieve the feat. At the World Championships that December, Comaneci led the field after the compulsory competition but was hospitalized prior to 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, Comaneci spent several days recovering in All Saints Hospital and underwent a minor surgical procedure for the infected hand, which had developed an abscess.

Comaneci participated in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, placing second in the all-around to Yelena Davydova. She defended her Olympic title in the balance beam and tied with Kim for the gold medal in the floor exercise. The Romanian team finished second overall.

Comaneci retired from competition in 1981. Her official retirement ceremony took place in Bucharest in 1984 and was attended by the IOC Chairman.

Post retirement

In 1981, Comaneci participated in a gymnastics exhibition tour in the United States. During the tour, her coaches, Béla and Marta Károlyi, along with the Romanian team choreographer Geza Pozar, defected. Upon her return to Romania, Comaneci's actions were strictly monitored. She was granted leave to attend the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles but was supervised for the entire trip. Aside from that journey, Comaneci was forbidden to leave the country for any reason. "Life..." she wrote in her autobiography, "took on a new bleakness."

Working in Romania, between 1984 and 1989, Comaneci was a member of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and helped coach the Romanian junior gymnasts. In November of 1989, a few weeks before the Revolution, she defected with a group of other young Romanians. Her overland journey took her through Hungary, Austria, and finally, to the United States.

After settling in the United States, Comaneci spent most of her time touring and promoting lines of gymnastics apparel and aerobic equipment. She also dabbled in modeling, appearing in ads for wedding dresses and Jockey underwear.

In 1994, she became engaged to US gymnast Bart Conner, whom she had met for the first time in 1976 at the American Cup. Together with Conner, she returned to Romania for the first time since her defection (and since the fall of Communism and of Ceausescu), and the couple were married in Bucharest on April 27, 1996. The ceremony was broadcast live in Romania, and the reception was held in the former presidential palace.

On June 29, 2001, Comaneci became a naturalized citizen of the United States. She has also retained her Romanian passport, making her a dual citizen.

Comaneci is active in many charities and international organizations. In 1999, she became the first athlete to be invited to speak at the United Nations to launch the Year 2000 International Year of Volunteers. She is currently the Vice-Chair of the Board Of Directors of the International Special Olympics and Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. She has also personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comaneci 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 performs this function based out of her Norman, Oklahoma, office.

In the world of gymnastics, Comaneci is the Honorary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, the Honorary President of Romanian Olympic Committee, Ambassador of Sports 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, Comaneci and Conner have provided television commentary for many gymnastics meets, most recently the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne.

Comaneci received the Olympic Order, the highest award given by the International Olympic Committee, in 1984 and 2004. She is the only person to receive this honour twice, and was also the youngest recipient. She has also been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame

In December 2003, her book, Letters To A Young Gymnast, was published. The memoir answers questions that she has received in letters from fans. Comaneci 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 Olympics.

In 2005, elected the Greatest Athletes in 150 years of Sports history, Nadia placed 4th in the final voting, ahead of Pelé and Mohammad Ali, and was the highest ranked female athlete.

Comaneci and Conner welcomed their first child, a baby boy named Dylan Paul Conner, on June 3, 2006 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The baby was three weeks early, weighing in only at 4 lb 10 oz and measuring 17 inches long, but was able to go home from the hospital a few days after delivery.

Special skills

  • On the uneven bars, Comaneci performed her own release move, a kip to front salto. The skill is named after her in the women's Code of Points and, as of 2005, is rated as an 'E' element. Only a handful of international gymnasts are capable of performing the Comaneci successfully.
  • Comaneci was the first gymnast to successfully perform an aerial walkover and an aerial cartwheel-two back handsprings flight series on the beam.
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