Nadia Comaneci was the first woman to ever win a perfect 10 at the Olympics in the sport of gymnastics. She was only 14 at the time.
The Romanian gymnast was born in Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Romania in 1961. At the age of 6, Nadia was discovered by coach Bela Karolyi, who later went on to coach both the Romanian and U.S. teams to gold. Nadia became one of the first gymnastic students under Bela and his wife Marta’s gymnastics school in Onesta. In 1969, she won 13th place in the Romanian National Championships, and she only continued to progress.
Just six years later she won the Romanian National Junior Championships and the following year, as a senior, she won the European Championships.
Nadia became known for her original skills, clean technique and cool under pressure demeanor during competitions. Her skill and ability to perform landed her a spot on the 1976 Olympic gymnastics team.
Competing in the Olympics
At a time when Cold War tensions were high, and speculations about communist countries cheating, the small but mighty Nadia impressed the world with her with her smile and her skills.
Nadia brought her best the the 1976 Montreal Olympics and not only warmed the heart of her audiences, but also the respect of her judges. In total, Nadia earned seven perfect 10 scores, three gold medals, including the highly esteemed individual all-around individual gold. The Romanian team also won bronze with Nadia’s help.
In 1980, Nadia picked up even more medals, two gold and two silvers during the Moscow Olympics.
In 1984, Nadia retired from the sport and worked as a coach for the Romanian National Gymnastics team. After a trip to the U.S. in 1984, Nadia’s movements were more closely monitored by government authorities. With the help of her former coach, Bela Karolyi,Nadia defected to the United States in 1989.
In the States, Nadia reconnected with Bart Conner, a fellow gymnast she met during the Montreal Olympics. The two were later married in 1996. Today, Nadia and Bart live in Oklahoma and Nadia splits her time among a variety of activities including speaking engagements, commercial endorsements, gymnastics commentary and charity events. Nadia, Bart and their business manager Paul Ziert also work on a number of other gymnastics-related businesses, including a gymnastics academy, as well as a gymnastics’ magazine, production company and gymnastics supply company.
Nadia continues to give back, from visiting Romania to support local charities in her home country, to serving as the Vice--Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics International.
As a 14 year old, Nadia wowed the world through her art, but even though she’s no longer competing on the beam, uneven bars, floor or vault anymore, Nadia continues to inspire young gymnasts from outside the arena today.