Romanians You Should Know: Nadia Comaneci

more than a year ago
There’s an urban myth in the US that claims all baby girls born in the six months after the 1976 Montreal Olympics were called Nadia. Like all urban myths there is not a little truth in the legend, and even the most cursory of enquiries confirms that the number of Nadias christened in the US in 1976 was abnormally high.

The source of the name of course was the incomparable Nadia Comaneci, who, aged just 14, succeeded in putting both gymnastics and Romania on the map in the space of a few days with her perfect routines at Montreal. Until Nadia came along, gymnastics was watched by few people beyond the friends and family of those who took part. Then, during the 1976 team competition, Comaneci’s routine on the uneven bars was scored at 10.0. It was the first time in Olympic gymnastics history that the score had ever been awarded. Indeed, the scoreboards were not even equipped to display scores of 10.0 - so Comaneci's perfect marks were actually shown as 1.00 instead. Over the course of the Olympics, Comaneci would earn six additional 10s, en route to capturing the all-around, beam and bars titles. Though she would win a further two gold medals at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow (taking her total Olympic haul to five), she had to play second fiddle to local girl Nellie Kim, who led the USSR to team gold in a competition which Romanians to this day insist was fixed. Comaneci also won two World Championship’s gold medals, in 1978 and 1979.

She retired from competition in 1981 and began touring as a professional. On a trip to the US later that year however, her coach, Bela Karolyi, defected. Comaneci returned to Romania but was placed under strict supervision and barred from traveling abroad. She was allowed to attend the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics but was shadowed everywhere by conspicuous minders.

With less than impeccable timing Comaneci finally fled Romania for Hungary, in a daring nighttime escape, in November 1989. Less than a month later Romania’s communist government fell.

Since then she has served as something as an unofficial ambassador for both her sport and for Romania; she is the Honorary Consul General of Romania to the United States. In 1996 she married the American gymnast Bart Connors, with whom she has a child, Dylan.
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