Born in 1961, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci became the first woman to score a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event at the 1976 Olympic Games, at age 14. Her performance at the 1976 Olympics redefined both her sport and audiences' expectations of female athletes. At the 1980 Olympics, Comaneci won gold medals for the balance beam and floor exercise. She retired from competition in 1984 and defected to the United States in 1989.
Early Life and Career
Nadia Elena Comaneci was born on November 12, 1961, in Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains, to parents Stefania-Alexandrina and Gheorghe, an auto mechanic. Comaneci was discovered at the age of 6 by gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi (later to become the Romanian national coach). She won the Romanian National Junior Championships, and, as a senior, won the European Championships in 1975 and the American Cup in 1976.
1976 Olympic Games
Comaneci thrilled the world at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada, where, at the age of 14, she became the first woman to score a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event. She received seven perfect scores and won three gold medals—for the uneven bars, balance beam and individual all-around—and a bronze medal for her floor exercise. As part of the second-place Romanian national team, she won silver. Comaneci's performance at the 1976 Olympics redefined both her sport and audiences' expectations of female athletes.
1980 Olympics and Later Years
At the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, Russia, Nadia Comaneci won two gold, for the balance beam and floor exercise (in which she tied with Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim); and two silver medals, for the team competition and individual all-around. (After coaching the Romanian national team through two Olympiads, Bela Karolyi defected to the United States in 1981. He later led the nation's gymnastic program to its first World Championships.)
"The — I don’t want to say older, but the more experienced I get, I treasure and I honor what I’ve done much more. You know what I mean? It becomes much more important, and I appreciate it because I understand from a different view what it takes to do that." - Nadia Comaneci, USA Today, 2016
Comaneci retired from competition in 1984 and worked as a coach for the Romanian team before defecting to the United States via Hungary in 1989. After appearing in a series of provocative underwear advertisements, she married American gymnast Bart Conner in 1996 and moved to Norman, Oklahoma.
In 1999, Comaneci received a World Sports Award of the Century after being elected "Athlete of the Century" during a gala in Vienna, Austria.
Comaneci currently does television commentary, writes for gymnastic publications, and travels the world promoting the sport.
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