It does not come as a surprise that many people from the Eastern part of Europe tend to have a natural talent for sports. One story that tops the list is of Nadia Comaneci, a Roman Gymnast, who gave a fantastic performance at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. She won 5 Olympic Gold Medals and was the first ever gymnast to achieve a perfect score in the competition. Read to know more about her incredible journey.
Nadia Comaneci was born in 1961, in Onesti, a small Romanian town. Nadia’s parents split when she was just ten, and she stayed with her mother, Stefania. As a child, Nadia was very energetic, so her mother put her in a gymnastics class just to tire her out. But soon after she was enrolled, Nadia fell in love with the sport, and her mother saw potential in her.
Life’s CallingLife’s Calling
When Nadia first started taking Gymnastic lessons, she understood that it was what she loved doing the most. It was only when she began learning how to do a cartwheel that, she realized that this sport was more than just a routine; it was her calling! Most people live their entire life not knowing what they want, but Nadia, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.
Her First Coach
One fine day, Nadia and her friends here cartwheeling in their schoolyard. Now call it destiny or luck, she was spotted by a renowned gymnastics coach, Bela Karolyi. Karolyi immediately enrolled Nadia, who was 6 at that time, into his gymnastics school.Nadia’s talent and hard work combined with Bela’s experience was what made Nadia, one of the greatest gymnast in history.
Nadia would train for 3 hours each day and sometimes even longer. She lived right beside Bela’s school, so it was not difficult for her to travel every day. During one of her first competitions, Nadia faced a problem in her landing, but Bela did not lose trust in her and instead, he encouraged her to practice more. Finally, Nadia started improving her form and remained dedicated to the sport.
Becoming a Pro
Nadia participated in her first actual gymnastics competition in 1969; she was only 7 years old back then. Despite being much younger than her competitors, Nadia performed pretty well; she came 13th.
Although it wasn’t her fault, Nadia took this personally as a failure and started practicing even harder.
When she turned 8, she won her first competition and came first.
Nadia performed in the European Championships and America Cup and won 5 medals at the tender age of 14. This was the first time that people were able to see her capabilities, and they were eager to see her perform again. Nadia had set her eyes on the Montreal Olympics and was preparing vigorously for the same.
Her First Kiss
Around the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Nadia performed at the American Cup when she was 14. She went on to receive a silver medal in the competition and most importantly met the love of her life, Bart Conner. While the duo was on the podium, the media urged them to kiss each other and they obliged. Both of them felt an instant connection, and their relationship only grew stronger after that.
The Star Of The Olympics
Days before the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Nadia was busy preparing for the global event. Even though she had trained enough and was aiming at the gold medal, she also felt anxious to be a part of something so big. The Olympics was a huge deal and history was about to be written!
The Perfect 10
The Olympics gymnasts are scored from 1-10 on their performance. The judges saw Nadia perform and could not point out a single flaw in her routine and she received a straight 10. But this was not the only perfect 10 that she earned; she went on to receive six more and won three gold medals in this process!
A Theme Song based on Nadia
Nadia started gaining popularity after the Olympics; she had numerous fans and won several accolades; she even had her own Theme song!
A singer named Robert Rigger created a video of all her performances using the soundtrack of “Cotton’s Dream” from the movie Bless the Beasts and the Children. The video instantly went viral, and by the end of 1976, the song was renamed as the “Nadia’s Theme.”
Gaining International Recognition
Nadia became an international sensation and received many awards. She became a national hero, and the Romanian government also gave her numerous honors. Nadia even appeared on the cover of the Time Magazine.
However, right when she felt like she had the world at her feet, things took a downward spiral.
Nadia had everything that she needed in the professional front. She received a lot of love from her fans, she had gained international attention and earned numerous awards, but her personal life was far from perfect.
Her parents filed for a divorce when she was 10, but they still fought a lot. She was going through a difficult time and being in the limelight did not help at all. Additionally, she had to look for a new coach as she was no longer training with Bela.
Nadia was going through a tough time, and she felt trapped and desperate. She even attempted suicide but failed. The Romanian officials took this seriously and took the necessary steps to ensure that she was okay. The first thing they did was to reassign Bela as her coach. This changed many things, and Nadia resumed her training.
Growing Up Too Big
When Nadia grew up and hit puberty, the Romanian government and several others suggested that she leave the sport. They said that gymnastics required a petite body and Nadia was growing tall and had gained a bit of weight. The star, however, did not pay heed to all this and went back to competing. She even remained determined and performed at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
Being famous comes with its own baggage. When in the spotlight most people who are popular get paired together and Nadia was no exception. The press started pairing her up with the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. However, these were only rumors, and the truth was nowhere close to this.
There was a lot of drama that was associated with the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Nadia’s performance was nowhere close to her previous routine at the Montreal Olympics, but she did end up earning two gold and two silver medals during the competition. Her coach Bela, however, thought that she was judged unfairly and voiced his opinion. His speech was televised live, and this made his life extremely difficult in Romania. The Romanian authorities expressed their disapproval on his behavior and thought that he misrepresented their country.
Nadia was one of the best gymnasts of her time; she was on the top, so everybody was eager to beat her. The Russians wanted her to lose so bad that they even brought Russian soldiers to the game. While she was performing at the Moscow Olympics, the soldiers would make loud noises and distract her. Fortunately, Nadia was a professional and did allow them to ruin her performance; she did win medals even despite all this.
The Olympics was assumed to be rigged.
Bela, Nadia’s coach, fought against the scores she received at the Olympics, and his outrage made everyone think that it was a politically motivated event. During the cold war, everything was controlled by the superpowers, but a few events like the Olympics were supposed to be neutral, and Bela’s comments made everyone think
otherwise. He was not taken seriously by both, the Russian and Romanian government.
The Famous Nadia Tour
The communist Romanian government was struggling economically back in 1981 and to raise money; they organized the Nadia Tour’81. Nadia toured the United States where people went crazy about her and wanted to meet the popular sports star and take pictures with her. She was a rockstar and earned the country a whopping $250,000! Now, this was a huge amount for Romania back then, but Nadia was only paid $1000 for all her hard work.
The Government’s response
Bela’s accusations during the Russian Olympics made it difficult for him to live in his own country, Romania. The government had him, and his life was constantly in danger. After the Nadia’81 tour, Bela and a few others decided to defect to the United States. They even asked Nadia to come along, but she wanted to go back to her country.
A Prisoner in her own country
Nadia faced the repercussions of the defection. When she returned to Romania, the government was afraid that she would defect too and monitored every move of hers. Her phone was tapped, her emails read, and she was not allowed to visit other countries. The government also interfered in her private matters, and Nadia felt trapped in her own country.
The Great Escape
Nadia found it difficult to lead a normal life in Romania, with the government constantly interfering in her personal matters, things were becoming unbearable. She made up her mind and decided to leave the country for good. She contacted a Roman nationalist and anti-communist named Constantin Panait, who said he could safely smuggle her to Florida. This was a great risk, but she had to take it, as it was no longer possible for her to stay in Romania.
The Secret Plan
Nadia decided to keep her plan a secret; there was no way she was going to let the opportunity go. She loved her family, but informing them about the escape meant that she was inviting a risk upon herself. The only two people who knew about it were her brother and his wife. Nadia was still unsure about Constantin, but once her brother met him, he knew that Panait had pure intentions and would safely smuggle Nadia out of the country.
The Successful Escape
Nadia left home one cold winter morning and managed to make it to the Hungarian border. Since the country was also a friendly communist regime, they welcomed her with blankets and warm food. She was then moved to the Austrian embassy, to helped her get to Vienna. There, she met Constantin Panait and the duo boarded the flight to New York.
Although Nadia was popular, she was not welcomed very warmly into the United States. Rumors followed her even across the oceans, and everybody thought that she had an affair with Constantin.
Two weeks after arriving in New York, she told the New York Times, that she did not expect the that and was very disappointed.
Nadia was ever grateful for Constantin’s help but did not realize the price she had paid for it. Panait isolated her from everyone and wanted to keep her for himself.
Upon her arrival in the United States, numerous people wanted to meet her, coach Bela Karolyi and Bart Conner were among them, but Constantin never relayed their messages to Nadia. She felt like she was trapped again, and this time, by a man.
Bart Conner was curious about Nadia; he was not sure why she hadn’t spoken to anybody ever since her arrival. He found out about an interview in Los Angeles that she was going to attend and immediately left for California. Conner had no way to reach her, so he rented a helicopter to get to the studio and arrive as a surprise guest.
Meanwhile, Panait showed his true colors; he began to control Nadia’s life and threatened to have her sent back to Romania. He even appointed himself as her manager, and Nadia let him. She thought that it would be impossible for her to survive without him. She was also very scared and knew nothing about the place.
Constantin Panait Getting Exposed
Nadia’s situation changed when she met Alexandru Stefu, a gymnastics coach. She became good friends with him and even opened up about Panait to her. Constantin realized that he was in trouble, so he stole all her money and fled.
Nadia said in an interview, that Panait kept her like she was in prison, he never let her call her family, and it was then that she started to realize that something was wrong. She also revealed that he would beat her. But Nadia said that she had no hard feelings for him as he was the one who got her out of Romania and now her debt was repaid.
A Ray Of Hope
Soon after Alexandru Stefu revealed what Panait that done to Nadia, he was killed in a car accident. Now, she was left with no money, friend nor did she have a place to stay. Luckily, Paul Ziert, who was Bart Conner’s coach, offered to help her and she went on to live with his family in Oklahoma. He became Nadia’s manager, and this turned out to be the turning point in hers and Bart’s relationship. They started getting close and enjoying each other’s company.
Paul gave Nadia Conner’s phone number, and the duo began talking. This went on for a year, and Conner offered Nadia to partner up with him to open a gymnastics school. This was a great opportunity for her considering what all she had to undergo in her life. She took it up, and their relationship began to blossom.
On Getting Married
Nadia and Bart shared their first kiss back in 1976 and remained in touch through their careers. But now things had changed, and they were in a serious relationship. Bart proposed to Nadia in 1994 in Amsterdam and Nadia said yes!
The duo decided to get married in Romania since the communist regime had fallen making it safe for her to return home. Everything finally seemed to fall in place.
After the fall of the communist regime, Nadia was urged by Romanians to come back home. She was now looked like a hero. The new government was a liberal one and even allowed her to use the House of Parliament as the location of her wedding. Thewedding was a grand affair, 10,000 people attended it, and the enter procession was televised. People from all over the country came to meet her, and she was once again, came back home.
Nadia was never really over the fact that she had to leave her country, her home. So during her wedding, she took a moment to express her gratitude to the country and its people. She said that she had always loved them and never wanted to leave, but had to escape due to the circumstances. Her speech was welcomed with love, and the people of Romania never forgot her achievements.
The Private Gymnastics School
Nadia and Bart together formed the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Oklahoma. Numerous people from all over the country come to meet and work with famous athletes. They even traveled the world and give lectures and hold seminars. They receive sponsorships and advertise various gymnastic products.
Nadia was famous and it is only but natural that she has popular friends. Actress Katies Homles is one of her closest friends. Katie approached Nadia when she wanted to make a film on her and needed some help with the script. They began talking, and the two instantly hit off.
Debut Film As a Director
Katie’s film, Eternal Princess, was her directorial debut. The film was not a hit but was successful in conveying Nadia’s story to the general audience. Holmes conveyed Nadia’s struggles, her dedication towards her craft and her perseverance.
Athletes, in general, undergo rigorous training. They have jam-packed training schedules, especially at a young age. In 1995, there was a news that a gymnastics coach had beaten an 11-year-old- girl from Romania to death. When the coach was arrested,he accused Bela of beating Nadia too. However, it was pretty clear that it was just an attempt to justify his own actions and no one actually believed.
The Government Conspiracy
When the story of the young girl went viral, a few western journalists wanted to dig deeper. It was revealed that the new Romanian government was not as liberal as they claimed to be. They hid and confiscated most of the evidence related to the issue.
It was assumed that the Romanians were eager to show the world that they are truly capable of producing the best athletes in the world. And to achieve that they would do anything.
Bela went ahead and spoke about the matter. He said that he was unhappy about how things still worked in Romania. The secret policemen were still very much present, and anyone who did not agree with the state was their enemy. This was one of the reasons why Bela and Nadia refused to come home even after all those years.
Nadia and Bart welcomed their first child in 2006, their son, Dylan. The little boy enjoyed traveling and was used to the attention that his parents were getting. Little Dylan enjoys gymnastics but likes doing his own thing. He is a part of a soccer team for his school, and he is happy with it.
Nadia and Bart not only make a great couple, but they are also great business partners. They have opened up several gymnastic schools across the United States, and apart from this, they have invested heavily in manufacturing the equipment required for gymnastics. Their brand produces great quality merchandise and s quite popular among professional athletes.
Nadia was also making new friends, and some of them were quite popular. In addition to Katie Holmes, she is friends Arnold Schwarzenegger. As fate would have it, he was working out in the same gym as hers and approached her and asked if he could train her someday.
Arnold trained her the next day as her personal trainer, and the duo shared an incredible photo on social media. And in his post, he just praised the incredible athelete
Nadia’s net worth is estimated to be $10 million. For someone, who was merely paid $1000 for her US tour, and had to escape her own country and was left with nothing when she arrived in America, this was earned by working hard and slogging.
What Is The Secret To Success?
When athletes discuss about Nadia’s success, they often talk about her talent. But for Nadia, her mentality is more than important than her talent. She said that, whenever she would do something wrong, she would go back and practice again so that she wouldn’t repeat the mistake. That was what motivated her to strive for perfection.
The Unbeatable Nadia
Nadia earned a perfect 10 in the 1976 Montreal Olympics and broke the record. In all these years, no one could ever come close to that. But now, there have been several changes in the rules and regulations, and the grading process a little different. However, athletes can improve their own score, and but it seems like Nadia’s score seems pretty untouched.
The Rigorous Gymnastic Routine
Various elements make up a gymnastic routine. Nadia too made her set of routines, she invented a few by herself and introduced new elements to the world of gymnastics. Even today, professionals study her videos to understand her moves. Her contribution to gymnastics can never be forgotten.
A Healthy Lifestyle
thletes give up a number of things including food for their career, and most people think that they cannot wait to get back and indulge, but Nadia’s case is different. For her, gymnastics was a way of life; she still does not eat junk inspite of retiring from the sport.
She follows a healthy diet and is mindful of her calorie intake.
Working Out Regularly
Nadia does not just take care of her what she eats; she also ensures that she exercises regularly. At the age of 56, she is still in the form. Although she does not work out as she used to before, she still does a 30-minute exercise every day.
A Taste Of Home
Nadia once went on to say that she hadn’t eaten French Fries in 25 years and it made people wonder about what the athlete preferred to eat. So we found out that Nadia’s favorite dish is called Salata de Vinete and it originates from Romania. It includes eggplants and various types of spices.
Being Invited to Montreal As A Spokesperson
Nadia visited Montreal in 2017 as a spokesperson of the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships held there. She accepted the invitation without hesitation as it was interesting for her to go back to the place, where she made history, 41 years ago. The same place that made her one of the best athletes in the world.