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Topping the Gymnastics Charts

Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci wiped the floor at the 1976 Montreal Olympics Games, making her the most well known Romanian after Dracular and Nicolae Ceausescu. The 14-year-old landed an unprecedented seven perfect 10 out of 10 scores, enabling her to waltz off with three gold medals (for beam, asymmetric bars, and the coveted all-around championship), one silver(team) and one bronze(floor).

Comaneci went on to win two gold medals in the 1979 World Cup, two golds and two silvers at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and became the only woman to win three consecutive European Championship all-around titles. At home she was the youngest Romanian to be awarded Ceausescu's Hero of Socialist Labour gold medal and attracted the romantic attention of Ceausescu's eldest son, Nicu. Abroad she was credited with taking gymnastics to new heights, Tucked double-back somersaults, "Comaneci flips' and 'toe-on half-twist tucked-back to dismount' were all new moves pioneered by the success. In 1984, at the age of 22, she retired.

Comaneci's defection to the West in November 1989 drew international attention to the brutality of the Ceausescu regime. She was consequently granted political asylum by the US and later married American gymnast Bart Conner from she had stolen a first kiss at the American Cup in 1976 where they met. The couple wed in 1995 at Ceausescu's house of People in Bucharest and exchanged religious vows at Casin Monastery outside the capital. The bride twirled up the sisle in a US$50,000 dress which sported a 6.5m-long train carried by six aspreing young Romanian gymnasts.

Comaneci was inducted in the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1993. The same year she posed in her underwear for a Times Square poster to raise cash for Romania's orphans. She now runs a gymnastics school in Oklahoma, with husband Bart, and is honorary.

Despite baring all, Comaneci remains a role model for up-and-coming gymnasts throughout the worked. The Romanian Gymnastics Federation (tel. 01-210 4616, 211 1087; fax 01-210 4616) is at Str Vesile Conta 16, RO-70139 Bucharest, Romania's top club is Deva, at Cetate Liceul de Educatie Fizica si Sport Deva, Alexandru Sahia, Ro-2700 Deva.

Source: Romania & Midolva, 1998