Nadia Comăneci’s Path to Perfect 10 Success is Filled of Struggle, Inspiration and Hope

Nadia Comăneci set the world ablaze with her breathtaking gymnastics routines from a young age and is still widely considered as one of the greatest gymnasts on the planet. At just 14 years old, she left the world speechless with her perfect 10 performance in the 1976 Olympics. After catching the attention and heart of fans around the globe, she quickly turned into a gold-medal-winning gymnast machine.

Soon after her reaching the peak of Olympic glory however, her own world started to fall apart. Before long, everything began to crumble down around her. While she continued to break records with her talent, when the cameras stopped rolling, she was left feeling alone and forced to find her own path. As she was forced to rebuild her life again, the story of her success is filled with struggle, heartbreak, courage and ultimately hope.

Born From Flames

Nadia Comăneci was born to be a gymnast. When she was a young child in Romania, she was quickly recognized for her talent and potential. She joined her first gymnastics team, named Flacara, which translates as ‘flames’ in English. As she was about to set the world on fire, the name couldn’t have been more fitting.

Born From Flames

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When Nadia turned 14, she was selected to compete in the 1976 Olympics. After giving a record-breaking performance, she made history and left the audiences around the world stunned by her talent. She became a teenage superstar, with so much left to achieve. Still, she couldn’t have predicted the twists and turns that her journey was about to take.

The Perfect Meeting

When Nadia was a child, she grew up in the small Romanian town of Onesti. One day she was playing with her friends in the playground, and just like any other day for her, she was perfecting her cartwheels. It was just by chance that the infamous gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi chose that moment to show up. It was a meeting that would change Nadia’s life forever.

The Perfect Meeting

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On that life-changing day, Bela happened to be in the town of Onesti as he had just opened a new gymnastics school there. Although he liked to drive around and scope out the young talent, it was fate that he happened to be driving past that school playground, at the time when Nadia was practicing her perfect cartwheels.

A New Star Pupil

When Bela Karolyi spotted Nadia in the crowd, her talent was obvious. Even though she had no professional training, she was executing perfect cartwheels. It was at that point he knew he was destined to be her coach. However, it was a little awkward for him, as before he could introduce himself, he was interrupted by the school bell. The students all rushed back to class.

A New Star Pupil

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In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Karolyi later said it was “an important moment in my life.” Since he was determined to not lot Nadia get away, he decided to enter every classroom. Once inside, he asked every student to raise their hands if they liked gymnastics. Sure enough, in one of the room, both Nadia and her close friend immediately raised their hands.

Escaping the Real World

At that time, Romania was a communist country, and not an easy place to grow up in. So even though Nadia was only six, she found her escape in gymnastics training. Each session was rigorous and could last six or seven hours. Nadia had to perfect her talent in such a precise way, it was almost robotic. Still, the chance to escape her real life was well worth the effort.

Escaping the Real World

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In fact, Nadia was so determined to avoid the real world, she pushed herself further, even more than her coach expected of her. By the age of ten, Comaneci continued to stun Karolyi with her unrelenting work ethic and commitment. Instead of the expected five beam routines in a day, she was doing seven.

Practice Makes Perfect

In 1976, before Nadia competed in the Olympics, she entered the prestigious American Cup. It was the opening year and the cup showcased all the best gymnastic talents from around the globe. Unsurprisingly, Nadia was untouchable on the mat and soon began to dominate the entire competition.

Practice Makes Perfect

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For the judges, it was a quick and easy decision. They crowned the budding young star with a gold medal in the women’s category. As she stood proudly on the podium next to another male contestant, Bart Conner, he suddenly kissed her on the cheek. At that time, Nadia wouldn’t have known how meaningful that innocent kiss would be for her life.

Another Day, Another Routine

In 1976, Nadia took center stage at the esteemed Montreal Olympics. For her, the routine she performed was just another gymnastics routine. She had practiced and perfected that sequence thousands of times. So although she was now performing in front of millions of viewers, there was no doubt in her mind. The thought of not nailing the routine was not even an option.

Another Day, Another Routine

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As expected, she performed her routine with flawless perfection. She moved with elegance and grace, twisted and contorted her entire body with style and hit every goal with precision. To the world, her gravity-defying performance was groundbreaking. Still, after finishing her show-stopping sequence, all that was left to do was wait. She wouldn’t have known she was about to make Olympic history.

Breaking the Scoreboard

Nadia Comaneci later said in an interview, that “I don’t watch the scoreboard because I feel how I did the routine. I thought I did a pretty good routine.” Still, when she finally turned around to see the judge’s score, we’re sure her heart dropped. Her score actually broke the scoreboard and it read 1.00.

Breaking the Scoreboard

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In the world of gymnastics, a perfect score is extremely uncommon, and it’s almost impossible to achieve a perfect 10. Daniel Baumat, the director of Swiss Timing later said in an interview, “I was told ‘a 10.00 is not possible.’” As it’s extremely rare to get a perfect 10 score in gymnastics, he did not program to Olympic scoreboard to reach 10. So the score simply read “1.00.”

Just the Beginning

After Nadia broke the scoreboard with her perfect 10 performance, she became the very first gymnast to ever be awarded a perfect 10 score. She actually made Olympic history. Nadia jumped into international stardom and everyone was in awe of this talented gymnastic wonder child. But for Nadia, this was just the beginning, and she wasn’t satisfied with collecting just one award.

Just the Beginning

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Over the course of the Olympics, Comaneci continued to stun the world by receiving a staggering seven perfect scores. While she broke her own record, she also raised the bar for all gymnasts. What makes it even more astounding is she was just 14 at the time. It wasn’t until 1981, that the Olympic committee raised the minimum for competitions to 16.

Becoming a National Hero

When Nadia returned home to Romania, she was quickly treated as a national hero. She was crowned with the prestigious titles, “Hero of Socialist Labor” and awarded the esteemed “Hammer and Sickle” medal. Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian President, and Communist Party Chief was so impressed by Nadia, that he personally met her to award her with both honors.

Becoming a National Hero

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For Romanians, Nadia was considered national royalty and everyone was proud and in awe of their favorite gymnast prodigy. She was untouchable and even got her own theme tune. The Romanian took a song that she danced to at the Olympic ceremony and re-named it “Nadia’s Theme.” What’s more, the government printed her face on stamps. After the Olympics, she was one of the most popular and loved figures in Romania.

Fame was Overwhelming

Just like most child stars who are thrust into the spotlight at a young age, the pressure of fame can be overwhelming. So just one year after she dominated the Olympics, she ended up being hospitalized. She later said that being in the hospital made her happier, as it meant she didn’t have to train in the gym.

Fame was Overwhelming

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After spending some time in the hospital, Nadia soon recovered and was healthy enough to leave. She got straight back into competing again, though her capacity was a little more limited than before. Her time in the hospital had caused her to gain some weight. At the same time, the Romanian government decided to separate her from her coaches, and things began to spiral.

Competing in the 1980 Olympics

Thankfully in 1980, Comaneci was reunited with her beloved coaches just in time for the next Olympics in Moscow. Four years after she scored seven perfect 10 scores, Nadia returned to the national spotlight. Even though she had been through some challenges, she still managed to impress the judges, and took home two gold as well as two silver medals.

Competing in the 1980 Olympics

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Nevertheless, there were still some things that Nadia couldn’t control. After the Olympics, her coach Bela Károlyi claimed that the Soviet government had secretly paid off the judges and that’s why his wonder pupil received a lower score. The argument with the judges was also captured on camera, causing controversy between both him and the Romanian government.

Nadia’s US Tour

Despite the argument, Nadia still had achieved another round of Olympic success. So in 1981, she was invited to travel across the world on a US tour. The tour was organized by Romania and allowed her to perform in 11 locations with some of the leading American gymnasts. The shows also provided a good way of raising money for the Romanian government.

Nadia’s US Tour

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The tour was led by her coach, Bela Karolyi and was profitable. It successfully generated $250,000. Although Nadia was the star attraction, she only received a $1,000 of that cash. What’s more, Bela Karolyi and his team of coaches decided to defect and stay in the US, saying they could no longer work with Romania.

Bela’s Decision to Leave

For Bela Karolyi, Nadia was his child prodigy, and he loved her as his own. After all, he had discovered her and trained her. However, when the Romanian government started to interfere with that relationship, he felt frustrated. In an interview with The Washington Post, he said the government tried to separate them on three different occasions.

Bela’s Decision to Leave

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He began to realize that it only when Nadia started to give a faltered performance that the government came back to him for help. He felt that they viewed Nadia as just a cash ticket and he found it impossible to work like that. So he decided with his staff and family to leave for Romania for good.

Feeling like A Prisoner

Now that Nadia was left alone without Bela by her side, things began to spiral for her. All of a sudden, she was hidden from the world by her government. Every time another country invited her to come and perform, her government denied the request. For Nadia, it meant that the only way she ever knew how to make enough money to support her family had disappeared.

Feeling like A Prisoner

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Nadia was now forced for the first time to try to live like a normal person, not a famous gymnast and national hero that she was used to. For her, it meant she needed to make a big decision. She could either stay in Romania and live with little money forever or make a grand plan to leave and defect so that she could continue to pursue her career and be successful.

A Life-Changing Decision

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Nadia later recalled how “Leaving meant you were gone. You couldn’t go back. I didn’t tell my mom.” She finally decided to defect in 1989, thanks to the help and support of Constantin Panait. Still, while the decision was emotional, it was also physically challenging as she navigated through icy rivers and had to pass armed guards.

A Life-Changing Decision

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The journey was grueling and backbreaking and took over six hours. However, her efforts soon paid off, and Nadia made her way to Hungary. Now she was safely out of Romania, she was free to travel to Austria. She headed straight to the U.S. Embassy and thankfully was given a flight to New York and the world of freedom.

Surrounded By Controversy

When Nadia finally landed in NYC, she was welcomed by the public with open arms. Still, those arms quickly closed when some personal details about her surfaced in the press. Surprisingly, a source had leaked to the press that the gymnast about her relationship with the Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu.

Surrounded By Controversy

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Evidently, Nadia dismissed these rumors and said that people had simply seen pictures of the pair at an event and believed what they wanted to believe. She later told a more heartbreaking version of the story. Still, as if that wasn’t enough, things got even worse for Nadia after another story about her rescuer Panait was made public.

A Faithful Marriage?

As more details of the story emerged, it seemed that Nadia and Constantin were more than just friends. Although there were a few different versions of the story of how they met, there was one thing for certain. When Nadia was later asked in an interview if she knew that Panait was still married at the time that he helped rescue her, she replied, “Yes, so what?

A Faithful Marriage?

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Panait’s wife was also asked by the press about the rumors of her husband’s infidelity, and she simply replied, “I am sorry my husband ever helped Nadia escape because it is giving me a lot of trouble.” Still, as Nadia settled into her new life in the USA, her behavior became a little more troubling. But things wouldn’t stay like this forever.

A Coach Reunion?

You might expect that when Nadia arrived in the US, the first thing she wanted to do was to reunite with her old coach. However, she surprised everyone by saying she wanted nothing to do with Bela, declaring “I have no business with my former coach.”

A Coach Reunion?

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For Bela, he was understandably not as negative about his former protégé and instead wished her good luck. He did also express concern about her rescuer Panait and questioned if his intentions with her were as pure as he claimed. Soon enough Nadia began to shut her family out of her personal life too, so they also expressed some concern for her too.

Bart Conner Enters the Scene

Bart Conner was the male gymnast who gave Nadia a sweet kiss on the podium at the 1976 American Cup. It seems that he never quite forgot that kiss. He later recalled that before stepping up onto the podium with Nadia, a photographer had suggested that he planted a kiss on her cheek. Conner didn’t need much convincing, as it seems he was already love struck.

Bart Conner Enters the Scene

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After this, Conner had closely followed the twists and turns of Nadia’ career. He later said how “She doesn’t remember it of course. But I do. Who could forget someone who went on to score a ten and the sport forever?” In fact, Connor had waited ever since to finally have his chance to reunite with Nadia again. He wondered if he’d ever be able to find her.

The Hunt Was On

While Bart Conner and Nadia had become close friends when they were younger, the distance had made it impossible to stay in touch. In fact, the last time Bart had seen Nadia Comaneci in person was in 1981, during her US tour. After this Conner lost contact with Nadia again. So once she defected to NYC, he took the chance to reach out to her. However, he was left with silence.

The Hunt Was On

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Conner was still determined, so he grabbed the opportunity to meet her when Nadia was scheduled for an interview on The Pat Sajak Show. Luckily, Connor knew people who could contact the producer of the show, so he called to ask a huge favor.

A Primetime Surprise

Sometimes in life, it’s all about connections. And thankfully for Conner, his connection was able to help him plan a surprise. So halfway through The Pat Sajak Show, the host suddenly announced a special guest appearance. So Conner went to the studio and emerged onto the show to surprise his old friend with a beautiful bouquet of roses.

A Primetime Surprise

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When Conner saw Nadia sitting on the stage with Panait by her side, he was still careful to play the gentleman card. He gracefully gave her the bunch of roses and told her, “It has been difficult for you and to leave your homeland and come here, and on behalf of the athletes we want to welcome you and tell you we love you.”

A Freedom that wasn’t Free

On the surface, it finally looked as though things were going Nadia’s way. Even though she had endured a rocky start in the US, things began to smooth out. She was regularly being invited for commercial photo shoots and the plans were getting underway to make a movie about her life story.

A Freedom that wasn’t Free

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Still, behind the scenes, things were very different. For Nadia, it felt as though she was still in Romania. Evidently, Panait had made the switch from her knight in shining armor to her captor. He wouldn’t allow Nadia to her call anyone herself and she wasn’t able to have contact with her own family back in Romania. Nadia later recalled how although she was happy to be there, she “knew something was wrong.”

A New Type of Control

Over time, Panait started to control every element of Nadia’s life. Every cent that she earned in the US went straight into his pocket, and he began to take advantage of her, both mentally and physically. He was also careful to ensure there was no way for her to make an escape.

A New Type of Control

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Nadia later admitted that she didn’t intend to shun her family or friends. She also didn’t want to burn her bridges with her old coach Bela. However, she felt like she was given no choice, and was being controlled completely Constantin Panait. Understandably Nadia sank into depression. However, just as things seemed hopeless, Alexandra Stefu emerged just in time.

Alexandra to the Rescue

Since Nadia’s former coach Bela Karolyi sensed something was wrong, he contacted Alexandra Stefu to ask if the Romanian ex-pat could help him. Bela was willing to offer Alexandra a substantial amount of money to arrange a meeting with him and Nadia in Montreal.

Alexandra to the Rescue

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During the course of the meeting, Panait kept his eye on Nadia and never let her out of his sight. Stefu could sense from her body language alone that the situation was more dangerous than anyone realized. The next day, Panait suddenly fled Canada with $150,000. Even though he left Nadia with physical and emotional scars, Nadia could take refuge that she was finally free.

Tragedy Strikes

After Nadia was freed, she moved in with Stefu and started to rebuild her life once again. She embarked on a tour with a few gymnastic all-star teams, and we’re happy to hear that she became best friends with Bart Conner on tour. However, before she could relax, she was given another blow. She was informed that Stefu had sadly passed away while scuba diving.

Tragedy Strikes

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Nadia had been through so much by this point and had no one else to turn to for support, but Conner. He later recalled how he’d “never heard someone so terrified in my life.” Conner immediately asked Nadia if she wanted to come could live with him, and she quickly accepted.

Love Struck

When Nadia agreed to move in with Conner, he was in the process of building a new gym in Oklahoma. It was quite challenging to get everything set up, so he was thankful that Nadia was willing to pitch in and help. They lived together as friends for a few years but later decided to take their relationship to the next level.

Love Struck

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Nadia and Conner started dating for several years, until 1994 when Conner finally went down on one knee. In a romantic gesture, he proposed to Nadia on her birthday. Even if she half expected the proposal, it was still the greatest gift for her. She recalled how, “He got me a ring, then a bracelet. He was running out of jewelry.”

A Royal Wedding

Nadia and Bart were engaged for two years, before their big day. Despite everything that had happened to her, Nadia felt that it was more special for her to have the wedding back in Romania, the place where everything began. She planned an extravagant ceremony and thankfully, the Romanians welcomed her home with open arms.

A Royal Wedding

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In Romania, it was considered a royal wedding and was broadcast on national TV. In fact, it was a national holiday and everyone was given the day off work to celebrate the occasion. Conner later joked, “Most women bring the man home to meet the father. I had to meet the entire country.” After all her struggles and hardships, Nadia was finally happy and ready to start her new married life.

Becoming American

When Nadia married Conner, she became an American citizen. In an interview she said, “I never thought I would be standing here, married to an All-American guy, living in Oklahoma.” She soon settled into her new life married to Conner in Oklahoma. Nadia also began working with Conner at his gym, which they now both co-own.

Becoming American

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It seems that more good things were in store for Nadia, as she then became pregnant and had a son. Oklahoma also gave her a warm welcome and added her to the prestigious Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. Now Nadia spends her time raising her son, working in the gym and on charity work, including working with the Special Olympics.

The Special Olympics

With her husband Conner by her side, Nadia devotes much of her time to the Special Olympics. She provides both financial support, and also works as one of the Board of Directors. In addition, she supports the Special Olympics by jetting all over the globe “to give opportunities through sports training and competition for persons with disabilities.”

The Special Olympics

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Nadia has also been recognized for her charitable work, and at the Monticello’s 50th Annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony she was given prestigious honor. At the event, she made history as the first athlete to ever present the keynote speech.

Canada Still Misses Her

While Nadia was originally born in Romania, she also famously lived in Canada. Now although she is living now as a US citizen, she still holds a special place for most Canadians. She was even nominated as a keynote speaker for the Windsor Essex Sports Persons of the Year. In fact, we’re sure Canada loves enough to give her dual citizenship if she wanted.

Canada Still Misses Her

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Although in Canada the nation’s favorite sport is hockey, it seems like the country hopes to encourage more young athletes to get into gymnastics. So Nadia was asked to be a keynote speaker to be an inspiring influence for the next generation of gymnasts.

A Relationship With Katie Holmes

Surprisingly, Nadia developed a close relationship with the actress Katie Holmes. This was another development that might have stunned a lot of people. While Katie is famously known for being an actress and was once married to Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes also wanted to help tell Nadia’s life story, and star as her in an upcoming movie.

A Relationship With Katie Holmes

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Many filmmakers had tried to bring Nadia’s story to life through a series of documentaries and short films. However, Katie was still determined to tell her story in a new way and they both developed a closes friendship developed. The short length film, called “Eternal Princess” was then released and told the story from a new perspective.

Keeping In Shape

While Nadia is not a pro athlete anymore and keeps herself busy as a full-time mother, she is still determined to keep in shape and not let herself go. In an interview with InStyle magazine, she explained how her “idea of a good workout is something that fits easily into my lifestyle…I like to workout every day.”

Keeping In Shape

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Nadia loves to complete her workouts in the morning, and it usually involves up to half an hour of combined physical activities. She is sure to combine some cardio, lifting, weights and stretching into her routine. Although when she was a pro gymnast, she would spend most of her days in a leotard, now she feels more comfortable to work out in shorts and t-shirts.

Getting Involved in Technology

While Nadia has now retired from competing as an Olympic gymnast, she has managed to find a new way to inspire other athletes to achieve perfect 10s. Thanks to the advent of new technology, Nadia has been able to work with developers to create a special gymnastic-themed cell phone app.

Getting Involved in Technology

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Eventually, Nadia was able to help create a game for Android users, aptly titled Nadia’s Perfect 10-Gymnastics. The game enables users to experience what it’s like to be Nadia as a gymnast and try to score their own perfect 10. The game actually made history as the first gymnastic app of its kind to be produced.

The Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy

Nadia is a regular face at the gym that she co-owns with her husband, The Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Norman. According to the website the gym, based in Oklahoma ‘is one of the largest and best-equipped gymnastics centers in the United States.’ Bart Conner has made sure to furnish the gym with some of the most state-of-the-art sports equipment.

The Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy

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The gym is even more special because Oklahoma isn’t necessarily a gymnastics hub. So the fact the two famous Olympians run the gym, gives them the opportunity to inspire the next generation of talented gymnasts. We’re sure they hope that it will become the best in the country, and also a potential future training ground for their growing son.

Raising the Bar for Gymnastics

In an interview, Nadia was asked to reflect on her career and said “When I look back at everything that has happened in my life. I don’t think that there would be one thing that I would have done differently because every little thing that I have done connected the dots to what I am today.”

Raising the Bar for Gymnastics

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It’s fair to say that Nadia helped revolutionized the sport and made it even more popular. With her perfect 10 score, she also raised the bar for future generations of budding gymnasts. While Nadia’s life story was full of twists and turns, overall it has shaped her as a person and helped her become a motivational figure today.

Nadia’s Technique was Unmatched

While Nadia stunned the world with her breathtaking accomplishments in the world of gymnastics, her perfect 10 scores weren’t her only achievements. Nadia was also renowned for her clean, precise and innovative gymnastic technique. She made history, as she was the first to perform a variety of groundbreaking new maneuvers.

Nadia’s Technique was Unmatched

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One of her most gravity-defying sequences was an aerial walkover with a cartwheel-back handspring flight series. She followed this up with a double twist dismount. She was the first gymnast to perform this and it was show-stopping routines like this that made her the best.

Nadia’s Theme Song

Nadia even has a theme song named after her. The song was originally called “Cotton’s Dream”, which featured in the movie Bless the Beasts and the Children. After the film was released, an ABC broadcast a sports summary program Wide World of Sports introduced Nadia’s perfect 10 routine with this song in the background. Now many associate the song with Nadia.

Nadia’s Theme Song

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In honor of Nadia’s contribution to the world of gymnastics, the original composer of the song ended up renaming it as “Nadia’s Theme”. Ever since it has stayed that way. It’s actually an amazing feat, as not too many athletes can say that they have their own theme tune.

Nadia’s Children’s Clinic

While Nadia devotes some of her time to working with the Special Olympics, she also personally financed the creation and ongoing management of the Nadia Comaneci Children’s Clinic. The clinic is based in Bucharest, Romania and is designed to provide low cost and free medical care for kids.

Nadia’s Children’s Clinic

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The clinic was established in 2009 in the heart of Bucharest, very close to St.Spiridon Vechi church. Although the clinic is geared to provide services for children, there also some occasions where adults in need have been treated there as well.

The Origin of Nadia’s Name

Nadia was originally born in the town of Onești in Romania in 1961. Her father is Gheorghe, a car mechanic and her mother is Stefania-Alexandrina who was a factory worker. Nadia was their first born child, so the couple wanted to find a special name that would suit her character.

The Origin of Nadia’s Name

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When her mom Stefania-Alexandria was still pregnant with her first child, she felt inspired after watching a Russian movie. The film featured a female heroine named Nadya, and the name resonated with her. Stefania then decided to name her newborn Nadia, which also translates as hope. She wouldn’t have known that Nadia would prove to be a source of hope and inspiration for so many people as she grew older.

Making More Olympic History

While Nadia is still one of the most famous and celebrated gymnasts on the planet today, she has also made more Olympic history. She has become the only Olympic athlete to be awarded the highest honor by the International Olympic Committee, which is the Olympic Order twice.

Making More Olympic History

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Nadia was the youngest recipient to be awarded the honor. She received it the first time in 1984, and then for the second time in 2004. What’s more, she is also now a feature in the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. To add to her long list of accolades, in 2000 the Laureus World Sports Academy, named Nadia as one of greatest Athletes of the Century.