N is for Nadia Comaneci

I was seven years old in the summer of 1976, when Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci scored a perfect 10 (a first in modern Olympic gymnastics), and won the gold at the Montreal Olympics. 

Thirty-six years later, I still remember the day I sat in front of a TV in Bucharest, screaming Haide Nadia (Go Nadia).

In a country where gymnastics and soccer are the national sports, it was a moment of thrill and pride, and the beginning of every mother’s dream for her little girl to one day be like Nadia.

I grew up too tall and not gymnastically inclined. Even though I did my tumbling and twirling, my gymnastics phase ended faster than it began. But that didn’t matter. What counted was that we all got behind our Nadia, and loved her with every bit of our hearts.

Romanian champion Nadia Comaneci, aged 14, wawes on the women' s Olympic uneven bars event podium, 24 July 1976 in Montreal. Legendary gymnast, during her career Nadia Comaneci captured four Olympic gold medals and was the first to score 10 in her discipline. At left, silver medalis Rumanian Teodora Ungureano.

That might sound silly — this veneration of a star athlete. Not from our perspective. National pride was huge in the Romania I grew up in. We lived under a repressive system, a government that censored everything and dictated our lives while telling the world how happy we were.

What the government couldn’t take away was our sense of fellowship — a net of family and friends, insisting on enjoying and embracing one another.

When one of the twenty-three million family members tumbled her way into perfect Olympic glory, she made us all happy.

Years later, we got news of Nadia leaving the country. We listened to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, anxiously awaiting word — did she get there okay? How was she doing?

Nadia went through her trials and tribulations, but eventually she was not only okay, she flourished. Married gymnast Bart Conner, had a child, and after the Revolution returned to teach gymnastic. A different person, but much the same.

Life changed for many of us, including myself. I no longer live in Romania, but I will forever claim Nadia as one of my own. My distant family member. My Olympic hero. 

I would love to hear from you. Do you have a favorite Olympic athlete or sport? One time you remember the most? What made it into a favorite moment?


Photo credits: Nadia Comaneci,  turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery, olympic.summer.moments/images; Nadia Comaneci, daylife.com/imageserve.


18 responses to “N is for Nadia Comaneci

  1. This was a great story I wish I had something like that but I rarely follow the sports…I haven’t claimed anyone yet. Maybe I will be inspired one day.

  2. Nadia was one of my favorites, but I think the athlete that I’ve admired over the years is Dorothy Hamill. She was so incredibly graceful, dancing over the ice. She’s faced many of life’s tribulations over the years but I was happy to see her grace and joyfulness recently on Dancing with the Stars.

  3. I don’t really watch the Olympics, but my husband switches channels a lot and I did see Nadia years ago.

    Visiting you from A to Z



  4. I absolutely adored Nadia Comaneci when I was young, even though I’m not quite old enough to have seen her in her first Olympics. I love women’s gymnastics more generally because it’s so wonderful to see women’s sports venerated so completely.

  5. Hi, Silvia,

    Nice to meet you. What a fascinating account of a very special day in your life.

    Your story brought back a few of my own. I understand your pride and your people. In 1991 I was visiting Romania and while in Brashov, Bucharest was having a miner uprising. I had to return to the city that evening. Bombs, tear gas, and gunfire ripped into the night. It was terrifying. Early the next morning I was very fortunate to barely get out on a propeller plane. My next destination was Sophia Bulgaria.

    Despite the chaos. My fondest memories were the people and the beauty of the countryside. SO beautiful. Prince Edward’s castle, the drive into Transylvanian and Dracula’s castle. NOTHING like the silly horror movies.

    But I do remember how wonderful, friendly, and sweet the people were. To this day when i meet a Romanian, I find them charming and sweet.

    You have every right to be proud of your country and people.

    • Thank you, Michael.

      Wow, quite the situation you had to go through in Brasov. I remember that time … I moved out of Romania in ’92. As you probably know, that was the time the new government (more or less a clone of the old one) was trying to quash the students’ rebellions … students who were deeply disappointed by the turn of events after so many people lost their lives in the ’89 Revolution for nothing. They used the minors to do it … but that’s another story. :)

      Anyway, glad you made it out okay. And I’m glad you enjoyed Transylvania …It’s a beautiful place. I take my husband there every time we go back to visit family.

      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your experience in Romania. It was great to see this.

  6. I have to say Nadia is my fave – I have enjoyed seeing her and the big burly coach fellow around the last few Olympics. Those US gymnasts this past round were fabulous! Great post!

  7. Oh, I do remember Nadia Comaneci! I grew up in Sweden, and loved seeing all these gymnastic girls in the 70’s, some of them were my own age and it was unbeleivable what they could do! Gymnastics was one of my favourites to watch, and the names that stay with me from that time are Nadia and also a very young Olga … (“the sparrow from Minsk”, was it not?). I do understand that national pride! Great post!

  8. What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing it with us!

  9. I remember her, too. It was probably the first Olympics that I watched and understood what was happening. She was inspiring!

  10. I was obsessed with Nadia when I was young. I watched her every time she competed on TV. I even remember watching a movie they made about her life. (A made-for-TV movie that probably didn’t resemble her life much at all.)
    It thoroughly enjoyed reading your account of Nadia. I’ve never heard the perspective of someone from Romania before.

  11. I remember some of the earlier Olympics (for me, I’m not old enough to go back to 1908 or anything) and Seb Coe winning golds at 1980 and 1984. One of my best mates at school was his cousin so it made it a little more real. I do love watching the Olympics. Any sport really :)

  12. Hi Silvia .. I certainly remember her and watched in awe – quite extraordinary .. and I’m glad things have worked out for her. I saw her last year here in London .. I can imagine the impact she made on your homeland …. cheers Hilary

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