Nadia Comăneci

Nadia Comăneci
Nadia Comăneci
Personal information
Full name Nadia Elena Comăneci
Country represented  Romania
Born November 12, 1961 (1961-11-12) (age 50)
Discipline Women's artistic gymnastics
Gym National Training Center
Former coach(es) Béla Károlyi; Marta Károlyi
Choreographer Geza Pozar
Eponymous skills Comăneci salto (uneven bars)
Retired 1981

Nadia Elena Comăneci (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈnadi.a koməˈnet͡ʃʲ]; born November 12, 1961) is a Romanian gymnast, winner of three Olympic gold medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and the first female gymnast ever to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event. She is also the winner of two gold medals at the 1980 Summer Olympics. She is one of the best-known gymnasts in the world.[1][2][3] In 2000 Comăneci was named as one of the athletes of the century by the Laureus World Sports Academy.[4]


Early life

Comăneci was born in Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (now Onești), Romania, as the daughter of Gheorghe and Ștefania-Alexandrina.[5][6] Her pregnant mother was watching a Russian film in which the heroine's name was Nadya, the diminutive version of the Russian name Nadezhda (which means "Hope"). She decided that her daughter would be named Nadia, too. Comăneci also has a younger brother named Adrian.[7]

Early gymnastics career

Nadia began gymnastics in kindergarten with a local team called "Flacăra", with coaches Duncan and Munteanu.[8][9] At age 6 she was chosen to attend Béla Károlyi's experimental gymnastics school after Karolyi spotted her and a friend turning cartwheels in a schoolyard.[10][11][12] Nadia was training with the Károlyis 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, Marta. 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 area.[13]

Nadia placed 13th in her first Romanian National Championships in 1969. A year later, in 1970, she began competing as a member of her hometown team and became the youngest gymnast ever to win the Romanian Nationals.[5] 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.[14] 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 meet for junior gymnasts.[14][15]

Nadia 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, 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.[14]

In March 1976, Comăneci competed in the inaugural edition of the American Cup at Madison Square Garden in New York. She received unprecedented scores of 10.0, which signified a perfect routine without any deductions, on vault in both the preliminary and final rounds of competition and won the all-around.[16] Comăneci also received 10s in other meets in 1976, including the prestigious Chunichi Cup competition in Japan, where she posted perfect marks on the vault and uneven bars.[17]

The international community took note of Comăneci: she was named the United Press International's "Female Athlete of the Year" for 1975.[18]

Montreal Olympics

At the age of 14, Comăneci became one of the stars of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. During the team portion of the competition on July 18, her routine on the uneven bars was scored at a 10.0.[19] It was the first time in modern Olympic gymnastics history that the score 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.[20] Over the course of the Olympics, Comăneci 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.[21]

Comăneci 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 in the calendar year to compete in the Olympics; in 1976 gymnasts had to be 14 by the first day of the competition[22]), it is currently not possible to legally break this record.

Comăneci's achievements at the Olympics generated a significant amount of media attention. An instrumental piece from the musical score of the 1971 film Bless the Beasts and Children, "Cotton's Dream" (which was also used as the title theme music from the American soap opera The Young and the Restless) became associated with her 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 to "Nadia's Theme" after her.[23] 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.[12] Nadia Comăneci's achievements are also pictured in the entrance area of the Madison Square Garden in New York City presenting her perfect 10.00 beam-exercise.

She was the 1976 BBC Sports Personality of the Year in the overseas athletes category[24] and the Associated Press's 1976 "Female Athlete of the Year".[25] She also retained her title as the UPI Female Athlete of the Year.[18] Back home in Romania, Comăneci's success led her to be named a "Hero of Socialist Labor"; she was the youngest Romanian to receive such recognition during the administration of Nicolae Ceauşescu.[8]


Comăneci 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.[8][26]

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 23 August sports complex. The change was not positive for Comăneci. Grappling with both the stress of her parents' divorce and the new training environment, she was extremely unhappy and her gymnastics and overall fitness suffered.[8][27] Heavier and out-of-shape, Comăneci competed in 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 Comăneci won the beam title.

After the 1978 Worlds, Comăneci was permitted to return to Deva and to the Károlyis.[28] In 1979, a newly slim and motivated Comăneci 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, 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.[29][30][31]

Comăneci participated in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, where she placed second, by a small margin, to Yelena Davydova. She defended her Olympic title in the balance beam and tied with Nellie Kim for the gold medal in the floor exercise. The Romanian team finished second overall.

Comăneci retired from competition in 1981. Her official retirement ceremony took place in Bucharest in 1984 and was attended by the International Olympic Committee Chairman.[20]

Post retirement

In 1981, Comăneci participated in a gymnastics exhibition tour in the United States.[32] During the tour, her coaches, Béla and Marta Károlyi, along with the Romanian team choreographer Géza Pozsár, defected.[33] Upon her return to Romania, Comăneci'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, and a few select trips to Moscow and Cuba, Comăneci was forbidden to leave the country for any reason."[20] "Life..." she wrote in her autobiography, "took on a new bleakness."[34]

In Romania, between 1984 and 1989, Comăneci was a member of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and helped coach the Romanian junior gymnasts. In November 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.[8][21][35] Her initial arrival in the United States generated some negative press, focusing on her penchant for heavy makeup and flashy clothes, and the fact that her constant companion Constantin Panait (a Romanian exile who arranged her escape from Romania and initially exercised considerable control over her as her self-appointed business manager) was a married father of four.[36]

With the help of her former coach Béla Károlyi and his friend Alexandru Stefu, a Romanian rugby coach, Comăneci was able to make a break with Panait and settle in Montreal.[36] She successfully distanced herself from the image problems of her initial arrival from Romania. Comăneci spent most of her time touring and promoting lines of gymnastics apparel and aerobic equipment. She also dabbled in modeling, appearing in advertisements for wedding dresses and Jockey underwear.[21]

While she was living in Montreal, Bart Conner, whom she had met for the first time in 1976 at the American Cup, contacted her and invited her to live in Oklahoma. They became engaged in 1994. Together with Conner, she returned to Romania for the first time since her defection (and since the fall of Communism and Ceauşescu's death), 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.[21][37]

On June 29, 2001, Comăneci became a naturalized citizen of the United States. She has also retained her Romanian passport, making her a dual citizen.[8]

In December 2003, Comăneci's book Letters To A Young Gymnast was published, a combination of mentoring book and memoir. The book answered questions that she has 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 Olympics.[38]

Comăneci and Conner welcomed their first child, a son named Dylan Paul Conner, on June 3, 2006 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.[39][40]

Recent activities

Nadia Comăneci (right) with Condoleezza Rice.

Comăneci 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.[21][41] 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.[20]

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.[42]

In the world of gymnastics, Comăneci 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, Comăneci and Conner have provided television commentary for many gymnastics meets, most recently the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne[21] and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.[43] In 2004, her 10.0 Montreal uneven bars routine was featured in a commercial for Adidas which ran during the Athens Olympics.

On August 10, 2007, Nadia 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.[44]


Comăneci 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 honor twice, and was also the youngest recipient. She has also been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.[45]

Special skills

Comăneci was known for her clean technique, innovative and difficult original skills, and her stoic, cool demeanor in competition.[12][46][47][48]

On the uneven bars, Comăneci 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, was rated as an 'E' element.[46][47] Also named for her is the 'Comăneci dismount' a half twist to back salto.

On the balance beam, Comăneci 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.[12][46][47]

Comăneci's skills on the floor exercise included a double back salto and a double twist.[47]

Pop culture references

  • Nadia is a 1984 made-for-television biopic of Nadia Comăneci.

See also

  • List of Eastern Bloc defectors
  • List of multiple Olympic medalists at a single Games


  1. ^ The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. (2007). "Gymnastics". Retrieved September 6, 2007. 
  2. ^ British Olympic Association (2007). Gymnastics history "British Olympic Association". British Olympic Association. Gymnastics history. Retrieved September 6, 2007. 
  3. ^ "Munchkin leads European charge of gymnastics" CBC sports, June 3, 2008
  4. ^ "Nadia Comaneci". CNN. July 7, 2008. 
  5. ^ a b "Olympic Champion Nadia Comăneci Young Athlete, August 1978
  6. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 4
  7. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 5
  8. ^ a b c d e f Whatever Happened to Nadia Comăneci? Barbara Fisher and Jennifer Isbister, 2003, Gymnastics
  9. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg.
  10. ^ "Olympic Champion Nadia Comăneci Young Athlete, August 1978
  11. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 17–19
  12. ^ a b c d "Nadia Awed Ya Frank Deford, Sports Illustrated, August 2, 1976
  13. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 19
  14. ^ a b c List of competitive results Gymn-Forum
  15. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 27–28
  16. ^ "Gymnast Posts Perfect Mark" Robin Herman, New York Times, March 28, 1976
  17. ^ Scores for 1976 Chunichi Cup Gymn-Forum
  18. ^ a b UPI Athletes of the Year
  19. ^ "Biography: COMANECI, Nadia". U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Retrieved 17 July 2011. 
  20. ^ a b c d "Still A Perfect 10" Olympic Review, Paul Ziert, 2005
  21. ^ a b c d e f Legends: Nadia Comăneci International Gymnast magazine
  22. ^ "Within the International Federations" (PDF). Olympic Review, 1980
  23. ^ "Nadia Comăneci: The Perfect 10" International Olympic Committee (IOC) website
  24. ^ List of winners, BBC Sports Personality of the Year (Overseas) BBC press office
  25. ^ Associated Press Athletes of the Year MSN Encarta. Archived 2009-11-01.
  26. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 61–62
  27. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 64–68
  28. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 68–72
  29. ^ "Nadia." The Epistle, (All Saints Episcopal Hospital), January 1980
  30. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 87–91
  31. ^ Little Girls in Pretty Boxes. Ryan, Joan. 1995, Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47790-2
  32. ^ "Miss Comăneci, 19, Makes Fresh Start". Ira Berkow, New York Times, March 6, 1981
  33. ^ Little Girls in Pretty Boxes. Ryan, Joan. 1995, Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47790-2 pg. 201
  34. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 121
  35. ^ Letters to a Young Gymnast. Comăneci, Nadia. 2004, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01276-0 pg. 137–148
  36. ^ a b Schneider, Karen S. (1990-11-26). "After Escaping Her Romanian Svengali, Nadia Comăneci Tries to Get Her Life Back on the Beam". People 34 (21).,,20113727,00.html. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  37. ^ "Nadia Tumbles over Wedding" Cincinnati Post, April 6, 1996
  38. ^ Nadia at the IMDB
  39. ^ "Nadia Comăneci, Bart Conner Welcome Baby Boy" Associated Press, June 6, 2006
  40. ^ "Former Gymnasts Nadia Comăneci and Bart Conner Baptized Their First Child, Dylan Paul" Catalina Iancu, Jurnalul National, August 28, 2006
  41. ^ "MDA's Perfect 10s" Muscular Dystrophy Association
  42. ^ Diplomatic List, Office of the Chief of Protocol, U.S. Department of State. Summer 2006. Accessed January 28, 2007.
  43. ^ Roenigk, Alyssa (2008-08-17). "The First Family of Gymnastics". ESPN The Magazine. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  44. ^ "Trump's celebrity 'Apprenti' revealed" Gina Serpe, E! News, November 19, 2007
  45. ^ "Nadia Comaneci". International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Retrieved May 12, 2007. 
  46. ^ a b c "SPORTS ACTIVE: NO TURNING BACK – Nadia Comăneci's perfect Olympic 10" George Chesterson, The Independent, April 11, 2004
  47. ^ a b c d "A Great Leap Backward" Anita Verschoth, Sports Illustrated, April 12, 1976
  48. ^ "The Games: Up in the Air" Time, August 2, 1976

External links

Preceded by
Irena Szewińska
United Press International
Athlete of the Year

1975, 1976
Succeeded by
Rosemarie Ackermann
Preceded by
Billie Jean King
Flo Hyman Memorial Award
Succeeded by
Bonnie Blair
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
United States Chris Evert
Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year
Succeeded by
United States Chris Evert

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