Nadia Elena Comăneci (UK: /( )/, US: /
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)|
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.
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 careerEdit
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 MontrealEdit
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 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 Robert Riger used it with 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 composers Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr. renamed it "Nadia's Theme" in Comăneci's honour. Comăneci never actually performed to "Nadia's Theme", however. 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 OlympicsEdit
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 OlympicsEdit
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 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.
The Romanian government prevented Comăneci from leaving Romania, aside from the 1984 Olympics and a few select trips to Moscow and Cuba. She had started thinking about retiring a few years earlier, but 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.
Comăneci defected with a group of other Romanians on the night of November 27, 1989, a few weeks before the Romanian Revolution. They were guided by Constantin Panait, a Romanian who became an American citizen after defecting. Their journey was mostly on foot and at night, and it took them through Hungary and Austria and finally to the United States.
Comăneci moved to Oklahoma in 1991 to help her friend Bart 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.
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.
The couple had son Dylan after 10 years of marriage. She is a dual citizen of Romania and the United States. She was the featured speaker at the 50th annual Independence Day Naturalization Ceremony on July 4, 2012 at Monticello, the first athlete to speak in the history of the ceremony. In October 2017, an area in the Olympic Park in Montreal was renamed "Place Nadia Comaneci" in her honor.
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 awardsEdit
- 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 filmsEdit
- 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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- "Eternal Princess".
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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