Nadia Comaneci created a sensation in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics when she dazzled the judges with her performance to the extent that they had no choice but to give her a score of Perfect 10, a score which had never been achieved previously in Olympic history. Here are 10 interesting facts about this legendary Romanian gymnast.
#1 Her mother got the name Nadia after watching a Russian movie
Born on November 12, 1961 in Onești, Romania, Nadia Elena Comaneci was the first child of Gheorghe, a car mechanic and his factory-worker wife, Stefania-Alexandrina. While she was pregnant Ștefania watched a Russian film whose heroine was called Nadya and it was from there that she was inspired to name her child Nadia. Nadia means ‘hope’.
#2 Aged 9, Nadia became the youngest gymnast ever to win the Romanian Nationals
Nadia Comaneci began gymnastics in kindergarten and at the age of six she was spotted by Béla Károlyi. She became one of the first students of the gymnastics school established in Onești by Béla and his wife, Marta. In 1969 at the tender age of 8 Nadia participated in the Romanian National Championships and came 13th. The following year she became the youngest gymnast ever to win the Romanian Nationals.
#3 She nearly swept the 1975 Norway European Championships
In 1975, at the age of 13, Comaneci created a sensation 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 was placed second. This was her first major international success and she was named the United Press International’s “Female Athlete of the Year” for 1975.
#4 Comaneci became the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in Olympics
Before the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, Swiss company Omega asked IOC whether they should change traditional boards for gymnastics, which had place for only three digits (like 9.67, 9.44 etc.), with boards that could represent four digits (10.00). The reply was “A 10 is not possible”. On Day 2 of the Montreal Games, 14 year old Nadia Comaneci dazzled the judges with her routine on the uneven bars and they were forced to give her a Perfect 10. Nadia’s perfect score was flashed as 1.00. The crowd, which was perplexed at first, soon realized what it meant and gave her a rousing ovation.
#5 She produced 7 perfect routines and won 3 gold medals at the 1976 Olympics
Comaneci didn’t stop after achieving the first Perfect 10 in Olympics. She went on to get six more perfect scores. Four of her seven perfect routines were in the asymmetric or uneven bars and remaining three came on the beam which is considered one of the most difficult Olympic events. Over the course of the games she won three gold medals (uneven bars, balance beam and all-around title), one silver and one bronze.
#6 She holds the record of the youngest ever Olympic gymnastics all-around champion
At the age of 14, Nadia Comaneci became the youngest Olympic gymnastics all-around champion ever. She still holds that record and as the age-eligibility requirements now require gymnasts to be at least 16, it is currently not possible to break her record. Comaneci also became the first Romanian gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title.
#7 Comaneci won two more gold medals at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Comaneci was the 1976 BBC Sports Personality of the Year in the overseas athletes’ category. Apart from retaining her title as the UPI Female Athlete of the Year, she was also the Associated Press’s 1976 “Female Athlete of the Year”. Nadia competed in the 1980 Moscow Olympics and won 2 gold medals but they were marred by controversies over scoring. She retired from competition in 1981.
#8 Nadia Comaneci defected to US in 1989
During her 1981 US tour, Nadia’s coaches Béla and Marta Károlyi defected to US. According to Nadia due to this incident her already difficult life in Romania under the repressive regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu “took on a new bleakness”. She was prevented from leaving the country and couldn’t even go for a cup of coffee without being followed. In 1989, just weeks before the fall of Ceausescus, Nadia, along with six other gymnasts, was able to escape across the border to Hungary, then to Austria and finally to the United States.
#9 She married another Olympic gold medallist
Nadia Comaneci met American gymnast Bart Conner in 1976 at the American Cup. He went on to win two gymnastics gold medals for US at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. When Nadia defected Conner contacted her and invited her to live in Oklahoma. In 1994 they became engaged and in 1996 they married in Bucharest, Romania. Together the couple run a gymnastics academy, alongside several other businesses. They had their first child, a son named Dylan Paul Conner, in 2006. Comaneci holds dual citizenship of Romania and US.
#10 Nadia Comaneci is the only athlete to receive the Olympic Order twice
Nadia Comaneci is probably the most famous gymnast in the world. She received the Olympic Order, the highest honor given by IOC, first in 1984 making her the youngest recipient and then again in 2004 making her the only one to receive it twice. Nadia has also been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. In 2000 she was named as one of the Athletes of the Century by the Laureus World Sports Academy. She was the first gymnast to carry out several skills in various routines and has a skill named after her in the women’s Code of Points.