The Perfect 10
A talent under regime: Nadia Comaneci
When she received the perfect 10, Nadia Comaneci made the impossible become attainable in the world of artistic gymnastics. The young and perfect lady was the darling of her sport after her burst to fame at the 1976 Olympic Games. Her story is one of incredible highs, literally and figuratively, and also one of profound lows and strong blues.
Comaneci’s introduction to gymnastics began at a tender age. Bela Karolyi invited her and her friend to join his company after he saw them playing and doing cartwheels in school. At 6, she joined Karolyi’s gymnastics school, which was still in its young years. Bela Karolyi and his wife Marta had started the school to develop local gymnasts from a young age. Comaneci being a very active child, was allowed to join the company by her mother as her mother thought it a good way to use up her energy. As a young girl, Comaneci enjoyed the opportunity to do things that she couldn’t try at home.
She participated in her first competition, the Romanian National Junior Championships, in 1969. She finished in 13th place but used her disappointment to fuel her preparation for the nationals a year later. The next year, she became the Romanian Junior Champion and was the youngest gymnast to have ever won the title. Comaneci’s talent was very evident from the beginning of her career. At ten years of age, she began competing internationally and quickly found success. She won her first all-around title in a junior meet for gymnasts held as a dual event between Romania and Yugoslavia.
At the 1975 European Championships in Skien, Norway, she won 4 gold medals in the all-around, vault, parallel bars and beam. It was only in the floor exercise that she didn’t win a gold medal. She won the silver medal instead for her floor routine. She also won two golds and three silvers in the Pre-Olympic test event in Montreal that year.
With the cover of night on the 27th of November, 1989, Comaneci escaped out of Romania through the Hungary-Romania border around Cenad after trekking for many hours. The group of Romanians she moved with travelled through Hungary and Russia before they were finally able to fly to the United States.
After settling in the US, Comaneci helped Bart Conner with his gymnastics school. The friends had known each other previously and met a number of times at gymnastics competitions through the years, especially during the Nadia ’81 tour. They first met in 1976 at the American Cup event. After working together for four years, they eventually got engaged. Comaneci returned to Romania in 1996 for her wedding to Bart Conner. This time, she was welcomed as a national treasure, and her marriage was broadcast live throughout the country. She became a naturalised US citizen in 2001 and still holds Romanian citizenship.
Comaneci has been honoured, not just in her home country of Romania but in different places around the world. She serves as the honorary president of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and as a member of the International Gymnastics Federation. In 1993, she was inducted into the Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Also, the entrance area of Madison Square Garden shows Comaneci presenting her perfect beam exercise while an area of the Montreal Olympic Park was renamed in her honour as Place Nadia Comaneci.
Comaneci’s story has all of it, success, growth, pain, abuse, determination and strength. It can serve as a case study for many who dream and aspire to excellence in their endeavours. It shows that many things don’t come easily, but impossible is something that is just yet to be cracked. Today, Comaneci remains active in the sport and runs her gymnastics school with her Conner.