Nadia Elena Comăneci (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈnadi.a koməˈnet͡ʃʲ]; born November 12, 1961) is a Romanian former gymnast who, at the age of 14, became the first gymnast in Olympic history to be awarded the perfect score of 10.0 at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. She would eventually go on to receive six more perfect 10s in Montreal as well as three gold medals. Four years later, she won two gold medals at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. She won a total of nine Olympic medals and four World Championship medals during her career. Comăneci is one of the best-known gymnasts in the world and is credited with popularizing the sport around the world. 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 medalist Bart Conner.
Nadia Elena Comăneci was born on November 12, 1961, in Onești, which is a small town in the Carpathian Mountains, in Bacău County, Romania, in the historical region of Western Moldavia. At the death of Communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej in March 1965, the town was renamed Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, but the name was changed back after the fall of communism. Comăneci grew up in the Socialist Republic of Romania, when Romania was under a Marxist-Leninist one-party Communist rule government. While it was a Soviet-aligned Eastern Bloc state during the Cold War (from 1947 to 1989), it was not a part of the Soviet Union.
Comăneci was born to Gheorghe and Ştefania Comăneci, and has a younger brother. Her parents separated in the 1970s, and her father (b.1936 - d.2012) 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, Ştefania, 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 which qualified her 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 her and a friend 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 7 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 would prove to be 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 New York City. She received rare scores of 10, which signified a perfect routine without any deductions, on vault in both the preliminary and final rounds of competition and won the all-around. It was during this event that 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 both participated in the 1976 Summer Olympics which Comăneci dominated while Conner was a marginal figure. Conner later stated that "Nobody knew me, and [Comăneci] didn't certainly pay attention to me."
1976 Summer Olympics
"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.— Sports Illustrated, 1976
A few months later, at the age of 14, Comăneci made history at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. During the team compulsory portion of the competition on July 18, her routine on the uneven bars received a perfect ten (and a gold medal), the first time in modern Olympic gymnastics history that the score had ever been awarded. When Omega SA, the traditional Olympics scoreboard manufacturer, asked before the 1976 games whether four digits would be necessary for gymnastics, it was told that a perfect 10.00 was not possible. Nadia's perfect marks were thus displayed as 1.00 instead. The crowd was at first confused, but soon understood and gave her a rousing ovation.
Over the course of the Montreal games, Comăneci would earn six additional tens. She also won a gold medals for the individual all-around and the balance beam. She also won a bronze for the floor exercise and a silver as part of the team all-around. Her main rival during the Montreal Olympics was the Soviet athlete, Nellie Kim, who became the second gymnast to receive a perfect ten (after Comăneci) for her performance on the vault.
Comăneci's achievements are pictured in the entrance area of Madison Square Garden in New York City, 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. 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), it is currently not possible to break this record legally. 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's success led her to be awarded the "Sickle and Hammer Gold Medal", and 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-ten 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 about the scoring were raised, Ceaușescu ordered the Romanian gymnasts to return home. The team followed orders and controversially 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 to train at the August 23 sports complex. The change was not positive for Comăneci. She was extremely unhappy and her gymnastics suffered. At the age of 16, 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 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 which was part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (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 (a number of 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 notes in her memoir that "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, whom she also competed against in the 1976 Montreal Olympics). She also won two silver medals, one for the team all-around and one for individual all-around. There were, however, controversies over the scoring in the all-around and floor exercise competitions. Her coach Bela Károlyi protested as he believed 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 told her that she would be part of an official tour to the United States they planned to call "Nadia '81," led by her coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi. It was during this tour that Comăneci's team shared a bus trip with American gymnasts, thus allowing her to meet up with Bart Conner for the second time (since their first meeting in 1976). She later remembered thinking that 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. After the defection of the Károlyis however, life changed drastically for Comăneci in ways she could not have predicted. As officials feared she would also defect, her actions were strictly monitored, and she was no longer allowed to travel outside of Romania.
1984 Summer Olympics
The one exception was when Comăneci was told that she would be attending the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as part of the Romanian delegation. Although a number of Communist nations boycotted the 1984 Olympics (in response 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. Her role at the games was as a spectator, not a participant, and it was in this capacity that she was able to observe Bela Károlyi's new student, 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. Although she had begun to think about retiring a few years earlier, 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 November 27, 1989, 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 a friend of hers. In the years since Béla Károlyi's defection to the United States, she had changed her mind on the subject and 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 that "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 states that "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 notes 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 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 been given) 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 5pm. 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 4:40pm and he was flown by helicopter to CBS Studios, landing by the time of 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 (Panit) 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, Canada where he was staying with his family and with Béla Károlyi. Comăneci notes 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."
Shortly thereafter in the spring of 1990, Conner traveled to Montreal to see her once again, this time in order 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. When Stefu died in a scuba diving accident over the Labor Day weekend in 1991, Conner invited Comăneci to come to Oklahoma to help him run a gymnastics school.
After leaving Montreal and moving to Oklahoma, Comăneci stayed in a room in the home of Conner's gymnastics coach, Paul Ziert. Eventually, Ziert became her manager. In addition, she and Conner were friends for a while before they developed a relationship, and were together for four years before they became engaged. On April 27, 1996 Conner and Comăneci were married in a ceremony in Bucharest that was televised live throughout Romania. Their wedding reception was held in the former presidential palace. In an interview years later, Comăneci recalled that the experience "was 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." Conner and Comăneci have one child, a son named Dylan Paul Conner who was born on June 3, 2006, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
On June 29, 2001, Comăneci became a naturalized citizen of the United States, while also retaining her Romanian citizenship (thus making her a dual citizen). A decade later, Comăneci was 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, serving 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, 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. More recently, she appeared with 1996 Summer Olympics gymnast Dominique Dawes and 2016 Summer Olympics gymnast Simone Biles in a commercial for Tide called "The Evolution of Power" just prior to the 2016 Summer games.
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, 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. In addition, both Comăneci and Conner are involved with The Special Olympics. One of the public methods Comăneci used to raise funds for The Special Olympics was to participate in the second episode of Donald Trump's reality show, The Celebrity Apprentice, Season 7 in 2008. Prior to the airing of the season, Trump announced that it would be the "nastiest version that we’ve done" and "a very vicious show" because of the unusual combination of celebrities who were each competing to raise money for a favorite charity. Comăneci was a member of The Empresario team (all women), which lost to The Hydra team (all men). Trump responded to this loss by firing only one person, Comăneci, at the end of the episode, thus preventing her from raising money for the Special Olympics. After it was over, Comăneci later stated that she "had great fun. I only did it because it was all for charity. If I had to do that to apply for a job with Donald Trump, no, I would never do that."
Honors and awards
- Listed as #9 (out of 100) in "The Top 100 Olympic Athletes" - NBC Sports
- Listed as #14 (out of 25) in "Greatest female athletes of all time" - CBS News
- 2016: 2016 Great Immigrant Honoree: Carnegie Corporation of New York
- 2015: Listed as #8 (out of 10) in "Ten best female athletes of all time" - 247Sports.com
- 2012: Listed as #8 (out of 40) in "40 greatest female athletes" - ESPN
- 2004: The Olympic Order
- 1998: Flo Hyman Award
- 1993: International Gymnastics Hall of Fame
- 1990: International Women's Sports Hall of Fame
- 1983: The Olympic Order
- 1976: BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year
- 1976: Associated Press Athlete of the Year
- 1975 and 1976: The United Press International Athlete of the Year Award
- The Top 100 Olympic Athletes
- Greatest female athletes of all time
- 2016 Great Immigrants Honorees: The Pride of America
- Ten best female athletes of all time
- 40 greatest female athletes
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.
- Comăneci salto
- Comăneci Dismount
- ^ "A Great Leap Backward" Anita Verschoth, Sports Illustrated, April 12, 1976
- "The Games: Up in the Air" Time, August 2, 1976
- Comăneci, p. 1
- Comăneci, p. 15
Book and films
- Comăneci's 2004 memoir, Letters to a Young Gymnast, is part of the YA 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 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 would later state 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."
- Letters to a Young Gymnast. basicbooks.com
- Eternal Princess
- Short Film Eternal Princess, Directed by Katie Holmes, Debuts on espnW
- ^ Lindsey, Robert (July 29, 1984). "NADIA COMANECI STILL GLOWS AS IMAGES OF 1976 RECEDE". New York Times. Retrieved September 4, 2016.