the first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10.00 in Olympic competition
Nadia Elena Comanechi was born in Onesti, Romania, on November 12, 1961. She was first introduced to gymnastics in kindergarten, and joined her first gymnastics club in 1967. In 1969, she was accepted into the Gymnastics High School, where she "acquired" her long-time coach Bela Karolyi (along with Bela's wife, Marta). She competed in her first national competition in 1970, as a member of the Onesti team, and won the Junior National All-Around Title in 1971 and 1972. She won her first international competition in 1971, at Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, with an all-around score of 38.50.
By January 1975, Nadia was eligible to compete at the senior level, and in May of that year she won the all-around in the European Championship, in Skien, Norway, taking gold medals in the balance beam, uneven bars, and vault, and a silver medal in floor exercises. She was named Associated Press Athlete of the Year that same year. In March 1976, she won the first American Cup Competition, scoring perfect 10's in the vault and floor exercises.
By the time Nadia arrived at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal she was already an international sensation. By the time she left, she was an international superstar. First, she became the first ever gymnast (woman or man) to score a perfect 10.00 in Olympic competition -- for her performance during the team compulsory exercises on the uneven bars. Then she went on to score six more perfect 10.00's, en route to capturing gold medals in the all-around, beam, and bars, and a bronze medal on the floor exercise. Her total of seven perfect 10.00's set a record that still stands today. The Romanian team also placed second in the team competition, capturing silver.
Nadia's Olympic performance made her a national hero. The first Romanian gymnast to win the all-around title at the Olympics, she became the youngest Romanian to ever be awarded the Gold Medal of a Hero of the Socialist Party.
In December 1976 Nadia scored two more 10.00's (for bars and floor) at the Chunichi Cup in Japan. She successfully defended her All-Around title at the 1977 European Championships in Prague, Czechoslavakia, but was forced to return her gold medal for the bars after the Romanian team withdrew from the competition in protest over scoring of the individual vault (the gold medal had been awarded to Nelli Kim over Nadia).
Late in 1977 Bela Karolyi was removed as Nadia's coach, and was replaced by a three-person "team." In 1978 she was hospitalized after drinking bleach, but exact details about the incident were never revealed. In November of that year, at the World Championships in Strasbourg, France, Nadia -- who was by now substantially taller and heavier than she had been at the Olympics -- was tied for second going into the bars when she fell during her routine, taking her out of the all-around medal race; she did, however, come back to take the gold medal in the individual beam competition. After sitting out the 1978 Romanian Nationals, Nadia was reunited with Bela Karolyi in 1979, and she was soon back in championship form.
At the 1979 European Championships, Nadia staged one of the biggest comebacks in gymnastics history by taking the all-around gold for the third straight time -- the first gymnast to do so. But by the time she reached the World Championships at Fort Worth, Texas, in December, she had lost so much weight that she appeared downright frail. Recouping from an illness and nursing an infected and swelling left wrist, she was forced to withdraw from the competition after the team finals. She staged another dramatic comeback at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Although she lost the all-around by a very slight margin, she won golds in the individual beam and floor and a silver in the vault. Her career Olympic medal take was five gold, three silver, and one bronze.
In 1981, following a tour of the United States by the Romanian team, Bela and Marta Karolyi decided to remain in the United States (in other words, they defected); Nadia, however, returned to Romania. Later that year, Nadia competed in what would be her last major competition, the World University Games; she took all five of the available gold medals. She officially retired from gymnastics competition in 1984, at the age of 22, and went to work for the Romanian Gymnastics Federation as a coach of the Junior National Team.
In November 1989, with unrest in Romania over Communist policies becoming ever more violent, Nadia decided it was time to leave her native country. She fled to Hungary and then to the American Embassy in Vienna, Austria, where she was granted asylum in the United States. After settling in the United States she spent most of her time touring and promoting lines of gymnstics apparel and aerobic equipment. She also dabbled in modeling, appearing in ads for wedding dresses and Jockey underwear. In 1991 American gynmanst Bart Conner, whom Nadia had met at the 1976 American Cup competition, invited her to live in Norman, Oklahoma, where he owned a gymnastics academy. On November 12, 1994, Bart proposed to her at the Amsteel International Hotel in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Later that same month, Nadia made her first visit back to Romania, during which time her father consented to give Nadia's hand in marriage to Bart; they were married in Romania on April 26, 1996. On June 29, 2001, Nadia became a naturalized citizen of the United States. On June 3, 2006, Nadia and Bart were blessed with the birth of a son, Dylan Paul Conner.
Since leaving competitive gymnastics Nadia has been active in many charities and international organizations. In 1999 she became the first athlete to be invited to speak at the United Nations, where she helped launch the Year 2000 International Year of Volunteers. She is Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of International Special Olympics and Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. She is also the founder of a charity clinic in Bucharest, Romania, that provides low-cost health care and aid to street children and orphans.
Nadia has not, however, completely forsaken the world of gymnastics. She is the Honorary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, the Honorary President of the Romanian Olympic Committee, Ambassador of Sports for Romania, and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation. In addition, she and her husband own the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, the Perfect 10 Production Company, and several sports equipment shops. They are also the editors of International Gymnast magazine. Nadia and Bart have also provided television commentary for many gymnastics meets.
Nadia's memoirs, Letters to a Young Gymnast, were published in December 2003. The book answers many of the questions that she has received in letters from fans over the years.
Honors and Awards
Member of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Ranked ninth on Sports Illustrated's list of the Top 100 Greatest Female Athletes (the highest-ranked gymnast).
Ranked fourth in the Top 20 of the most important athletic achievements of the last 150 years following a survey published on the Forbes.com website (November 2005).
Named Most Admired Sports Personality in Romania (August 2006).
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This page was last updated on February 18, 2014.