The Olympics have been around at least as early as 776 BC. The original site of the Olympic Games is Olympia, Greece, and was a place for religion and politics. The games have been around for over a millenia now, and are a forum for countries to come together and celebrate great athletes. The Olympics would have a big influence over the life of Nadia Comăneci.
Nadia Comăneci was born in Romania in a small town in the Carpathian Mountains on November 12, 1961. Her father was an auto mechanic, and she lived with her parents and brother Adrian. They were part of the Roman Orthodox Church, as were many Romanians at that time. Because Nadia was a difficult child with too much energy, her mother enrolled her in gymnastics classes when she was very young.
Nadia’s first team, when she was in kindergarten, was called, in English, “The Flame.” By the time she was 6 years old, she decided that she wanted to keep doing gymnastics for the rest of her life.
When Nadia was 6, she was having fun on the playground by practicing cartwheels with a friend. It just so happened that Bela Károlyi was goin by, and he spotted her turning perfect cartwheels. Bela Károlyi was already a renowned gymnastic coach by that time, and he and his wife were luckily looking for new talent to train at that time. He searched through the classrooms until he found her so he could make the offer to help train her.
By the time she was 7 years old, young Nadia was practicing 2-3 hours every day with her coach. She lived in the same town as the gymnastics school in Onesti, and was one of its first students. Even though other people were impressed with her early efforts, Nadia herself was not satisfied. She remembers falling a lot, but that only made her that much more determined to keep working hard.
Nadia Comăneci was only 7 years old when she participated in her first competition. It was the Romanian National Junior Championship in 1969, and she did not do nearly as well as she had hoped. Placing 13th, she decided to train even harder so that she would do better in the championship the next year. She not only did better, she placed first the next year, making her the youngest person to win the national championship.
Nadia was finally allowed to enter senior level competitions in 1975, when she was 13. She entered the European Championships, and then the American Cup. She won a silver medal and was photographed with American gymnast Bart Conner. Although he didn’t leave an impression on her at the time, the two married later.
Both Bart and Nadia went on to compete at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. It was Nadia’s first Olympics, and she was allowed to compete in several competitions, including team and solo routines. This Olympics would become an important part of history, and people watching would remember it because of Nadia’s performances.
Before July 18, 1976, it was thought that a score of perfect 10 was impossible in Olympic gymnastics. The scoreboards weren’t even set up to be able to reflect it. When Nadia scored a 10 for her performance on the uneven bars, people in the crowd rose to their feet in excitement. Nadia then proceeded to earn 6 more perfect 10 scores during the competition.
After that, Nadia became a popular and much-loved character in the sports world. She was named Overseas Sports Personality of the World by the BBC and Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in 1976. The Romanian government even gave her family a car and a vacation.
After Nadia went home, her parents split up, which was very hard on her. At the same time, the Romanian government decided to place her with a different coach. She did not adapt well to these changes, and her performances suffered. After she tried to kill herself, she went to the hospital to recover, and she was allowed to to back to Bela Károlyi as her coach.
At the 1980 Olympics, Nadia only received two silvers and two golds, and her coach complained about the scoring. The Romanian government was embarrassed by him, and made his life hard from that point on.
In 1981, the Romanian government got $250,000 for sponsoring “The Nadia Tour,” where Nadia traveled to 11 American cities performing. Nadia only received $1,000.Nadia’s coach had been having trouble with the Romanian government, and in 1981, during “The Nadia Tour,” he defected to the United States, staying behind while Nadia went back to Romania. Because they were worried that Nadia would defect also, the government started monitoring her mail and phone calls, and no longer allowed her to travel to Western countries.
Nadia went to a party in 1987 and met Constantin Panait, someone who had escaped Romania years ago and now lived in Florida. He offered to help her escape, too. She told her family, and her brother and his wife went with her as close to the Hungarian border as they could.
With five other defectors, Nadia walked in the cold until they reached the American embassy in Austria, where she was given a flight to New York City. Unfortunately, Nadia was no longer a child star, and did not receive a warm welcome. She was now alone in the West, and while her old coach Bela was trying to call her, Constantin was not relaying his messages.
Bart Conner tried to talk to her too, arranging to be a surprise guest on a show where Nadia was scheduled. He told her “something fishy” was happening, but she was not able to get away from Constantin for 3 months. She asked her old friend Alexandru Stefu for help and he confronted Constantin, who stole from Nadia and fled the country.
At first Nadia lived with Stefu, but he died in 1991 during from a snorkeling accident. Then she received an offer to move to Norman, Oklahoma from Paul Ziert, who was friends with her old gymnastics coach. He was also the coach of Bart Conner. Bart gave Nadia his number, and they talked for a year-and-a-half before he invited her to come help run his gymnastics school. In 1994, he proposed.
Nadia and Bart were married in 1996 in Romania. She came back as a hero since the old government was overthrown, and the reception was held at the former presidential palace. 10,000 people came out to suppor them. Now married for 21 years, they have one son, Dylan.
After all this time, Nadia is still going. She runs a gymnastics school with her husband and travels around the world doing endorsements. She also raises money for charities, including The Special Olympics. Worth $10 million, she capitalizes on her image to continue to succeed in her business ventures and to help other people.