November 12 – Happy Birthday, Nadia Comăneci!

Posted on November 12, 2016

I remember so well being impressed with the young Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci, way back in 1976, when she became the first gymnast in Olympic history to be awarded a perfect score of 10.

Apparently such a score was thought to be impossible, especially in the Olympics. When Omega was creating the scoreboard for the gymnastics events at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, they asked how many digits it should allow on the electronic scoreboard. They were told just 3. The people ordering the scoreboards “knew” that nobody could score over 9.95.

Then Comăneci scored a 10, and this is what the scoreboard displayed:

For a few seconds, everyone was stunned and confused. This gifted 14-year-old athlete had done amazingly well – how could she only earn a 1? Even Comăneci was confused at first. Then an announcement was made that the score was a perfect 10.

The crowd went wild!

That Olympics Nadia Comăneci went on to earn six more perfect 10s and three gold medals. Comăneci and other gymnasts occasionally earned perfect 10s since then – but now scoring in gymnastics has changed so that there is no one perfect score – it depends on the difficulty level of the routine or vault.

(By the way, in the 1967 European Championships, a woman from Czechoslovakia earned some perfect 10s. I guess it was considered a one-off and forgotten?)


Nadia Comăneci's Romanian coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi, defected to the U.S. in 1981, and Comăneci's life got suddenly much more difficult. Apparently, Romanian officials worried that she, too, would defect, so she was watched constantly, her actions and strictly controlled, and she was no longer allowed to travel outside of Romania except as a spectator during the 1984 Olympics in the United States.

I would've thought that would be the last place Romanian officials would allow her to go, but they kept careful guard over Comăneci, and she wasn't even allowed to speak to her former coaches!

Comăneci began to feel like a prisoner. So she decided to defect, herself. In 1989, just a few weeks before the Romanian Revolution, Comăneci fled her country in a dangerous overland journey, mostly at night, mostly by foot through Romania, Hungary, and Austria. Comăneci defected with six other Romanians and was led by a former Romanian who had become an American citizen.

If they had been caught, they might well have been killed, like many other Romanian would-be-defectors had been.

And yet just two weeks later, a revolution started that ended with Romania becoming a free nation!

Nadia Comăneci ended up in the United States, as was her goal, but she was still kept sequestered away from her former friends, the Karolyis and American athlete Bart Conner. (The person who kept her away from them was the man who had smuggled her out of Romania.) 

Finally, Conner managed to find a way to talk to her. Later, Conner and Comăneci developed a long-distance friendship and eventually a romance. They got married in 1996, and Comăneci became a U.S. citizen in 2001.

Nadia and Bart back in 1976, left, and as a married couple, with kids, right.

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  1. Happy Birthday and Contiunued Successess Nadia!!!

  2. Always my number one idol, i have always been in awe of her