Charity: Nadia's charity is the Special Olympics. PERSONAL CONNECTION: Nadia has been on the board of directors of the Special Olympics for several years, and brought the Special Olympics to Romania for the first time.
Nadia Comaneci burst into the limelight as the star of the 1976 Montreal Olympics and is the most celebrated gymnast of our time. The diminutive Romanian eventually produced a lifetime Olympic medal haul of five Golds, three Silvers and one Bronze and she has left behind a competitive record which will be virtually impossible to match.
First noticed by Romanian gymnastics coach, Bela Karolyi, when she was a mere six-year-old, Comaneci was soon a member of the Romanian junior gymnastics team. She won the national junior championship in 1970 as a nine-year-old and continued collecting several junior titles until she began senior competition in 1975. That same year, she entered the European Championships for the first time and went on to win the overall title, as well as three of the individual events.
In 1976, she made her first trip to the United States where she won several pre-Olympic titles, but nobody was ready for the unbelievable standards soon to be set by the 14-year-old gymnast at the Olympic Games, least of all the scoreboard operators at the Montreal Forum. When Comaneci dismounted from the uneven bars in the compulsory round, the scoreboard lacked the space for the proper number of digits to display her perfect 10.00 score and could only flash 1.00. She had literally accomplished the impossible!
By the time the Games were over, she had won three Gold Medals and a Bronze in the individual competition, a silver team medal and had famously become the first gymnast ever to receive a perfect 10.00 score from the judges. As a result, she appeared on the magazine covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated all in the same week.
Four years later, Comaneci narrowly failed to defend her Olympic all-around crown at the Moscow Games when Elena Davidova of the Soviet Union outscored her for the gold medal by less than 0.1 of a point. Many felt the Romanian had been the victim of a hometown scoring decision and the judges debated for 28 minutes before awarding the marks. Nevertheless, Comaneci still won individual golds on the beam and floor that year, boosting her lifetime Olympic haul to five gold, three silver and one bronze.
She retired from competition in 1984 and, in 1989, she left Romania and settled in the United States. She married former U.S. gymnastics star Bart Conner in April 1996. She still remains involved with the sport through television commentary and the column that she writes for International Gymnast magazine. She was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1996. She was selected at the Female Athlete of the Century in 2000 by the World Sports Foundation. Additionally, she was chosen as one of the "100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century" by Good Housekeeping magazine.
In addition to her work with the Laureus World Sports Academy, she is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics International and is Vice President of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.