Nadia Elena Comaneci: the first Olympic gymnast to score a perfect 10

Goran Blazeski
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Nadia Elena Comaneci was born on November 12, 1961, in Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains.

She was one of two children of Gheorghe, who was an auto mechanic, and his wife Stefania, who was a housewife.

Nadia began gymnastics in kindergarten but she was discovered at the age of six by gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, who would later become the Romanian national coach.

Teodora Ungureanu, Bela Karolyi, and Nadia Comaneci in the 1970s

Teodora Ungureanu, Bela Karolyi, and Nadia Comaneci in the 1970s

In 1970, she became the youngest gymnast ever to win the Romanian National Junior Championships. In 1971, she won her first all-around title in her first international competition, and as a senior, she won the European Championships in 1975, when she was only 13 years old.

In March 1976, she won the all-around title of the American Cup in Medison Square Garden in New York.

Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics

Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics

She has been considered by most experts in the field of gymnastics as the best gymnast ever in the history of the sport. A few months later, she participated in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, where she would achieve results never seen before in modern Olympic gymnastics history.

Comaneci was just 14 years old when in the space of a few short days she became one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet.

Comaneci on the floor exercise at the 1976 Olympics, a 2016 stamp of Romania

Comaneci on the floor exercise at the 1976 Olympics, a 2016 stamp of Romania

By scoring the first perfect 10 in Olympic history, Comaneci became an icon, a cultural touchstone who transcended her sport, her country, even the Games themselves. Never before had an Olympic gymnast scored a perfect ten.

She completed the games with an impressive handful of medals that included three Gold medals, one Silver medal, and one Bronze medal.

Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics, a 2016 stamp of Romania

Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics, a 2016 stamp of Romania

Nadia became the youngest person in history to receive the honor of becoming a “Hero Of Socialist Labor”.

But she didn’t stop here and in 1979 she won her third consecutive European all-around title, becoming the first gymnast, male or female, to achieve this feat.

She went on to claim two more gold medals at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and captured two world championship golds and nine at European championship level.

Comaneci on the balance beam at the 1976 Olympics, a 2016 stamp of Romania

Comaneci on the balance beam at the 1976 Olympics, a 2016 stamp of Romania

She retired from competition in 1981 but her official retirement ceremony took place in Bucharest in 1984. Later she turned to coaching, but in 1989, Comaneci defected to the United States.

In the United States, she got engaged to American gymnast Bart Conner, who had first met her back in 1976.

Nadia Comaneci at the 1980 Olympics

Nadia Comaneci at the 1980 Olympics

She returned to Romania in 1996 for the first time since defecting where she and Bart Conner got married in Bucharest.

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She became a United States citizen in 2001 and is still involved in gymnastics through an academy she runs with Conner.