If you haven’t heard of Nadia Comaneci before then you’ve missed one heck of a story! And if you have heard of the world famous gymnast, then perhaps you know a little bit about the incredible journey this one woman has been on. However, do you know the whole story? From breaking Olympic records through to becoming someone’s hostage (!), this is the life of Nadia Comaneci.
Nadia was born in a small town in Romania, where she lived with her mom, dad, and younger brother Adrian. Her mother once said that Nadia was a bit of a nightmare child, absolutely full of energy and difficult to control. Because of this, she decided to enroll her daughter into gymnastics classes from a very young age; to release some of that pent up energy! Nadia’s first gym glasses started in kindergarten, and by the age of six, she had been scouted by Bela Károlyi, a renowned gymnastics coach who was on the lookout for young talent. Nadia remembers having to work extremely hard, especially after falling in her first few competitions. However, falling just made Nadia want to work harder and motivated her to do well in the competitions she entered. Her first official event was in 1969, where she placed 13th; not quite as good as her and her coach had hoped. However, the same competition the year after went a lot better – Nadia placed first! Bela knew that it wouldn’t be long before Nadia was competing in the Olympics, so trained her harder than ever in preparation for her first senior competitions. By 1975, she was eligible for senior level events and so entered the American Cup in preparation for the Olympic Games which was being held the year after. It was at the American Cup where she would meet a young man named Bart Conner after a photographer asked him to kiss her on the cheek, as they both took to the winner’s podium… But more on him later.
The first perfect ten
The year is now 1976, and it’s time for the Montreal Games. Nadia was to compete in several gymnastics events throughout the competition, but nobody knew how well the little Romanian would do. On July 18, Nadia competed in a compulsory team event on the uneven bars. When the scores came in, the board showed 1.00. A score of one? Surely not?! However, people soon realized that this was meant to represent a 10.00 (which the scoreboards hadn’t been designed to show). Nadia Comaneci had scored the first ever Perfect Ten in Olympic history. That wasn’t the end of some incredible Olympic victories for the gymnast, however, as she went on to score six more 10s during the Montreal Games. Nadia was suddenly a star, with the paparazzi desperate to get photos of the young athlete or interview her for magazine features.
After the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, things took a turn for the worse for Nadia Comaneci. Bela Károlyi had defected from Romania after falling out several times with the government, and they were worried that Nadia would do the same. She was made a prisoner in her own country, being unable to leave to visit any Western countries, along with having her phone tapped and her every move watched. Nadia was desperate to leave Romania, despite being worried about leaving her family behind. She met a man named Constantin Panait who had escaped from Romania himself and was offering to help people do the same; little did she know, he was about to make her his own prisoner. Nadia, with the help of Constantin, escaped Romania and made her way to America where she seemed to spend all of her time with the married man who ‘rescued’ her. Luckily, a friend of hers soon realized something was wrong and questioned Nadia and Constantin before she revealed he had basically held her hostage for 3 months. Constantin fled the country soon after, taking Nadia’s car and $150,000 of her cash with him…
Getting her life back on track
Luckily, it didn’t take the gymnastic star too long to get her life back on track. She moved in with Bart Conner’s coach; yep, the same young American boy who had kissed her on the cheek all those years back. Bart and Nadia started dating, before having the “gymnastics world’s version of a royal wedding” back in Romania – a country which was no longer ruled by a dangerous dictator and where she finally felt welcome again. The pair had a son, Dylan, together and have remained happily married ever since.
There’s no denying that Nadia Comaneci has had one roller coaster of a ride throughout her life. From becoming the world’s most renowned gymnast through to defecting from her home country and being held hostage, Nadia has had a pretty turbulent life. However, we’re glad to see her life finally has a happy ending with Bart, her son, and peace at last.