Blog post

Nadia Comăneci, the first Olympic gymnast to score a perfect 10

'The Goddess from Montréal'

colour photograph of Nadia Comăneci training
Anca Docolin (opens in new window) (Biblioteca Județeană „Octavian Goga” Cluj)

Born on the 12 November 1961, in Onești, a beautiful small town situated in the historical region of Moldavia, Nadia Comăneci is considered to be one of the best sportswomen of the last century, and one of the greatest gymnasts in the world.

Nadia started practicing gymnastics in her hometown aged 5, encouraged by her family. The famous gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi saw her turning cartwheels in a schoolyard and chose her to attend his experimental gymnastics school. She soon became the 'pièce de résistance' of the Romanian team.

In 1969, at the age of 7, Nadia enrolled in her first competition, the Romanian National Junior Championships, where she placed 10th. She was not discouraged by the results. She instead became more motivated to train harder and, in 1972, at the age of 11, she won her first national champion title in Cluj.

colour postcard image of Nadia Comăneci

Nadia Comăneci's first major success was at the age of 13, when she won three gold and one silver medal at the 1975 European Championships in Skien, Norway. In the same year, the Associated Press named her 'Athlete of the Year'.

Black and white image of a magazine cover, with photograph of Nadia Comăneci holding a trophy

But her truly amazing performance came unexpectedly at her first Olympics, in 1976, when the 14-year-old Romanian gymnast astonished the entire world with her 30-second perfect routine on the uneven bars. The judges to awarded her a 10, the first 10 in the history of Olympic gymnastics competitions. Initially, this decision led to a confusion of the public as the board flashed up '1.00' instead, the scoreboard having only three digits to display scores such as 9.50, or 9.85.

colour photograph of Nadia Comăneci at Montreal Olympics with scoreboard in the foreground

As no-one had ever achieved a perfect score in gymnastics until Nadia Comăneci at the 1976 Summer Olympics, she earned the nickname: the 'goddess from Montréal'. Over the course of her the Olympic careers, Comaneci would earn six additional 10s.

black and white magazine cover with photograph of Nadia Nadia Comăneci somersaulting on beam

She was ranked BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year for 1976 and her photo was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Back home, the communist authorities from Bucharest awarded her the 'Hero of the Socialist Labour' title, being the youngest holder of this distinction.

In 1981, the Romanian government organised a tour for Nadia in the United States. People were anxious to watch the gymnast in action; the 'Nadia '81' tour was a huge success.

She retired from competitions in 1984, having a record of 24 medals won through hard-work, incredible talent, self-confidence and persistence at the Olympic Games, World Championships and European Championships, of which 16 were gold.

After her coach, Bela Karolyi, defected to the United States, Nadia was banned from travelling in the western countries and was under constant supervision of the authorities, so she made plans to escape. In 1989, just a few weeks before the Romanian Revolution, she crossed the Romanian-Hungarian border illegally, with a group of other young Romanians. Her journey took her finally to the United States, where she is, at present, active in many charities and international organisations and a passionate leader of a gymnastic academy for teenagers, together with her husband, Bart Connor.

She returned to Romania in 1996, after the fall of the Communist regime, for her wedding, which was held in Bucharest and televised live throughout Romania, the reception taking place in the former presidential palace.

Black and white photograph of Nadia Comaneci

In the world of gymnastics, Nadia Comăneci is currently Sports Ambassador of Romania, the Honourary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, the Honourary President of Romanian Olympic Committee, and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation. She won the title of European champion three times in a row and took possession of the 'European Cup', being the first gymnast to achieve this performance.

colour stamp with blue background and illustration of Nadia Comăneci in gymnast leotard

Nadia Comăneci is the youngest recipient and the only person to have received twice, in 1984 and 2004, the Olympic Order, the highest award given by the International Olympic Committee. She has also been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

In 2004, Nadia Comăneci wrote her memoirs, entitled Letters to a Young Gymnast, in which she described her difficult road to success, based on talent, hard work and commitment.

As some rules changed in gymnastics scoring, it is practically impossible for anyone to ever receive a perfect 10, so maybe Nadia's series of perfect 10s will remain the high point of Olympics history forever.

Share your sport story

Share your sport story - banner

Can you help us to tell the story of sport in Europe in the past and the present?

We invite you to tell us about your sport experiences through objects like photographs, memorabilia, equipment or prizes.
Share your story →

This blog is part of the Europeana Sport project which showcases cultural treasures relating to sporting heritage in Europe.