Nadia Comăneci is… Nadia Comăneci. Montreal. July 18, 1976. Summer Olympics. The first ten in the history of world gymnastics. Perfection had been achieved. The electronic display was not even programmed for grade 10, so the grade 1.00 appeared on the screen. Nadia had achieved this feat at the Olympic Games in Montreal, 46 years ago. And not once, but seven times. Seven grades out of ten, on a board that, until then, did not know how to display the maximum grade.
“I went back to see the note because there was too much noise in the hall. I didn’t even think about the grade. I said I did well, I take 9.99. I saw 1.00 and I said, so be it, be it, but 1 can’t be. I didn’t know about this thing with 10 until much later, when I got to one of my colleagues and she told me: I think it’s 10, but there’s something wrong with the panel”. (Nadia Comăneci)
No matter how clichéd all the epithets addressed to her may sound, Nadia Comăneci was everything that was said: The Goddess from Montreal, the Golden Child of world gymnastics, the legend of Romanian sport, the legend of world gymnastics, the best athlete of the 20th century , one of the best gymnasts in the world.
The life of Nadia Comăneci, a novel whose pages are still being written
Nadia Comăneci is the winner of five Olympic gold medals, she is the first Romanian athlete included in the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame memorial in Oklahoma city (memorial museum of all famous gymnasts, patronized by the organization of the same name whose members are only prestigious and renowned gymnasts international) and is also the first athlete to be invited to speak at the United Nations.
Almost a month before the outbreak of the Romanian Revolution, Nadia Comăneci left Romania, illegally crossing the Romanian-Hungarian border, on the night of November 27 to 28, 1989, and then asked for political asylum in the USA. But what was before and after this moment? Nadia’s life is truly a novel whose pages are still being written. A novel with many happenings and events, and a summary of it, in which to touch all the main topics, is impossible to achieve.
“She was dusting all the cushions and managed to break the sofa trying to sit on her head”
Nadia Comăneci was born on November 12, 1961 in Onești, in a family of simple people. And as a champion’s career starts early, so it was with the little girl who would write history with her sports performances. He took his first steps in gymnastics there, in his hometown, when he was only five years old.
He held his first important competition at the age of 8, in Sibiu, in a gymnastics championship for junior girls. A year later, she is taken over by coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi, and at 11 years old she wins the first title of absolute national champion. Eight hours a day of intense training. “The artist is nothing without talent, but talent is nothing without work” (Emil Zola). Nadia had the talent in her blood, but she worked enormously, with dedication, sacrificing her childhood, wanting to improve herself, getting closer with every training done, with every hour spent in the gym, to the status she deserved.
She met her husband 20 years before they were together
After the conquest of Romania, Nadia began to conquer the world. 1975. Made a splash at the Skien European Championships. Then she won gold in the individual compound at the America’s Cup, a competition that would intersect her fate with her future husband, Bart Conner. The two were then on the same podium, and an inspired photographer even caught them when Bart kissed Nadia on the cheek. The photo was later published in the New York Times. They would marry after 20 years.
Also in 1975, she won the “Champions Trophy” in London, and a year later… in 1976, the phenomenon happened that overturned the scoring system of Nadia’s performance at the Olympic Games held in Montreal. The first ten achieved by an athlete in the history of gymnastics and the moment that designated Nadia as the absolute Olympic champion, the moment when she was called the Goddess of Montreal.
Upon her return to the country, Nadia received the Order of Hero of Socialist Labor, being the first and only athlete to be awarded such a distinction by Nicolae Ceaușescu.
He didn’t try to kill himself
Although much has been written and spoken about Nadia’s alleged suicide attempt in 1978, amid depression caused by her parents’ divorce or the fact that Nadia’s physical transformations (she had grown taller, gained weight) made her career uncomfortable, Nadia dismantled all this information. “Yes, in 1978 I was very unhappy. But in no case did I try to kill myself because I had seen my friend with another girl, as it appears in the film. I heard several versions of this incident, and two German newspapers even wrote that I drank two bottles of disinfectant because I was devastated after the breakup in my love relationship with a poet. The truth is that the coaches and management had promised me more freedom during the time I would live in the 23 August complex. On that day, there were three men in front of the camera. They seemed engrossed in a game of cards, but they were there to watch over me. Where are you going, Nadia? they asked innocently. I couldn’t resist anymore. What are you looking for here? Can’t I do laundry unattended? Maybe, I continued jokingly, I’ll put this bottle of chlorine on my throat and kill myself. I went back to the room and slammed the door! I hated being followed, checked, researched. From a simple word thrown into trouble, rumors and stories were born!”, wrote Nadia Comăneci in the autobiographical book “Letters to a Young Gymnast”.
The world championships followed, where Nadia was not in the best shape, then the Europeans in Copenhagen, where she became the first athlete in the history of gymnastics to win the third European individual compound title. After which, in 1980, Nadia’s second Olympics. The one in Moscow, where he ranks second in the individual compound and where he wins two titles, on beam and floor, and two silver medals.
He leaves gymnastics at 20 years old
After 16 glorious years spent in gymnastics, at the age of 20, Nadia Comeneci retired from the sport she had conquered so beautifully.
The official retirement took place on May 6, 1984 and was organized at the Sports Palace in Bucharest. Then she was awarded the “Silver Necklace” Olympic Order, which she received from the president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Escape to America
In November 1989, Nadia immigrated to the United States of America, then settled in Canada, eventually returning to the USA. On April 27, 1996, Nadia Comăneci married Bart Conner, former US gymnastics champion and Olympic champion. But how did Nadia manage to escape from Romania? It was the night of November 27 to 28, 1989.
“It was past midnight, and the temperature had dropped so far that the cold had become a danger, but it was neither the only nor the most important. It was one of the most dangerous adventures in their lives: the fraudulent crossing of the border between the two communist states. The one who had assumed the role of guide of the group of seven people was Gheorghe Talpoș, a shepherd. He would have found out that Nadia would be one of the people who had to cross the border that very night: “How the hell could Nadia cross the border, at night, like criminals?”, writes the historian Stejărel Olaru in the book “Nadia and Security”.
“I remember it was a crazy situation, that I was on the verge of being killed because of a man with no sense of direction. I didn’t say anything, because no one was allowed to speak and break the silence. I was trying to keep my teeth tight, so they wouldn’t chatter”, said the famous champion in her book – Letters to a young gymnast -. I had left my country and left behind everything I loved. I had crawled through mud and water, across frozen fields, across barbed wire fences, all the while in fear of being shot in the back. When the police saw my identity documents, I was immediately offered the opportunity to stay in Hungary. And now I’m thinking why I seemed so important to them. My career was over. Two others in the group had been granted asylum, but the others were told they would be turned back the next day. I told the police that I would only stay if the whole group was allowed. We came together, we stay together!”.
From Hungary, Nadia was helped to reach Austria
“I remember that, as soon as I entered the gate, I told the first person that I was Nadia Comăneci and that I wanted political asylum. A true madness began. I had the impression that, on hearing my name, the sheets of paper fell out of their hands! The employees of the embassy looked at me like a ghost”.
“It was the moment when Nadia said in front of an embassy official: – I want to go to America! And as soon as possible!”, and the answer, which he had been waiting for forever, arrived immediately: “In two hours we have a flight and you will be on board – “, the author Stejărel Olaru also records in his book.
The Montreal Goddess
On December 1, Nadia landed at Kennedy Airport in New York, where an army of journalists was waiting for her, curious to know everything about her escape from Romania.
“That’s when Nadia’s story began in the USA. She lived in Canada with the family of Alexandru Ștefu, a rugby coach, but after his death, in 1991, Nadia resumed contact with Bart Conner and moved with him to Oklahoma, getting engaged in 1994” (“Nadia and Security”).
Olaru, Stejărel 2021. “Nadia and the Security”, Epica Publishing House