Nadia Comăneci was born in Oneşti, Romania. Her pregnant mother was watching a Russian film in which the heroine of the story's name was Nadya, the diminutive version of the Russian name Nadyezhda (which means, literally, "Hope"). She decided that her daughter would be named Nadia, too. Comăneci began gymnastics in kindergarten with a local team called "Flame", with coaches Duncan and Munteanu. At age 6 she was chosen to attend Béla Károlyi's experimental gymnastics school after he spotted her and a friend turning cartwheels in a schoolyard. Comăneci was training with the Károlyis by the time she was 7 years old, in 1969. She was one of the first students at the gymnastics school established in Oneşti by Béla and his wife, Marta, who would later defect to the United States and become coaches of many prominent American gymnasts. Unlike many of the other students at the Károlyi school, Comăneci was able to commute from home for many years because she lived in the area.
In 1970, she began competing as a member of her hometown team and became the youngest gymnast ever to win the Romanian Nationals. In 1971, she participated in her first international competition, a dual junior meet between Romania and Yugoslavia, winning her first all-around title and contributing to the team gold. For the next few years, she competed as a junior in numerous national contests in Romania and additional dual meets with nearby countries such as Hungary, Italy and Poland. At the age of 11, in 1973, she won the all-around gold, as well as the vault and uneven bars titles, at the Junior Friendship Tournament (Druzhba), an important meet for junior gymnasts.
Comăneci's first major international success came at the age of 13, when she nearly swept the 1975 European Championships in Skien, Norway, winning the all-around and gold medals on every event but the floor exercise, in which she placed second. She continued to enjoy success in other meets in 1975, winning the all-around at the "Champions All" competition and placing first in the all-around, vault, beam, and bars at the Romanian National Championships. In the Pre-Olympic test event in Montreal, Comăneci won the all-around and the balance beam golds, as well as silvers in the vault, floor, and bars behind accomplished Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim, who would prove to be one of her greatest rivals over the next five years. In March 1976, Comaneci competed in the inaugural edition of the American Cup at Madison Square Garden in New York. She received unprecedented scores of 10.0, which signified a perfect routine without any deductions, on vault in both the preliminary and final rounds of competition and won the all-around. The scoring board has shown 1.00, because it wasn't capable to display a perfect 10! Comăneci also received 10s in other meets in 1976, including the prestigious Chunichi Cup competition in Japan, where she posted perfect marks on the vault and uneven bars.
At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada, the 14-year-old Romanian dynamo captured the hearts and minds of the world with her daring and perfection. We came to know her simply as “Nadia.” By the time the 1976 Olympics ended, Comăneci had earned seven perfect tens, three gold medals, one bronze, one silver and countless fans. She appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated, all in the same week, and returned home to Romania to a heroines welcome. Four years later, at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Nadia earned two more gold medals and two silver to bring her Olympic total to 9 medals (5 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze).
Here are the results at the major competitions in hers career:
- 1975 European Championships: 1st all-around; 1st vault; 1st bars; 1st beam; 2nd floor
- 1976 Chunichi Cup: 1st all-around
- 1976 American Cup: 1st all-around
- 1976 Olympic Games: 2nd team; 1st all-around; 1st bars; 1st beam; 3rd floor
- 1977 European Championships: 1st all-around; 3rd vault; 1st bars
- 1978 World Championships: 2nd team; 2nd vault; 1st beam
- 1979 European Championships: 1st all-around; 1st vault; 3rd beam; 1st floor
- 1979 World Championships: 1st team
- 1980 Olympic Games: 2nd team; 2nd all-around; 1st beam; 1st floor
- 1981 University Games: 1st team; 1st all-around; 1st vault; 1st bars; 1st beam
Nadia Comăneci received the Olympic Order, the highest award given by the International Olympic Committee, in 1984 and 2004. She is the only person to receive this honor twice, and was also the youngest recipient. She has also been inducted in 1996 into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Nadia retired from competition in 1981. Her official retirement ceremony took place in Bucharest in 1984 and was attended by the International Olympic Committee Chairman. Between 1984 and 1989, she was a member of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and helped coach the Romanian junior gymnasts. In November 1989, a few weeks before the Revolution, she defected with a group of other young Romanians. Her overland journey took her through Hungary, Austria, and finally, to the United States. In April 1996, Nadia married American Olympic Champion, Bart Conner, in a Romanian state wedding. In 1999, she became the first athlete to be invited to speak at the United Nations to launch the Year 2000 International Year of Volunteers. She is currently the Vice-Chair of the Board Of Directors of the International Special Olympics and Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. She has also personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comaneci Children's Clinic, a clinic in Bucharest that provides low-cost and free medical and social support to Romanian children.
In 2003, the Romanian government appointed her as an Honorary Consul General of Romania to the United States to deal with bilateral relations between the two nations. She performs this function based out of her Norman, Oklahoma, office. In the world of gymnastics, Comăneci is the Honorary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, the Honorary President of Romanian Olympic Committee, Ambassador of Sports of Romania and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation. She and her husband own the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, the Perfect 10 Production Company and several sports equipment shops. They are also the editors of International Gymnast magazine. Additionally, Comaneci and Conner have provided television commentary for many gymnastics meets, most recently the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. In December of 2003, Nadia wrote a book called Letters to a Young Gymnast detailing her inspirational story.