Memorable Olympic Moments: Nadia Comaneci, Summer 1976
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci achieves perfection in 1976
by Mike Morrison
The 14-year-old Romanian dazzled the judges in Montreal to the point where they couldn't help but give her a perfect 10. And they didn't stop there, for not only did Comaneci receive the first perfect score, she then proceeded to get six more!
The media needed someone to step up and become the darling of the Montreal Olympics, much like Olga Korbut had four years earlier with three golds in Munich. Korbut was back in 1976 but was really only the third-best gymnast on the powerful Soviet squad behind teammates Nelli Kim and Ludmila Turishcheva. Comaneci was supposed to contend with the Russian juggernaut but no one, including coach Bela Karolyi (who later coached Mary Lou Retton in 1984 and the Kerri Strug-led American women's team in 1996) could have imagined what was to come.
There are a total of six events in women's gymnastics, five individual (balance beam, floor, uneven bars, vault and the all-around) and one all-around team event. Comaneci took home a total of five medals - three golds, one silver, and one bronze.
Four of her seven perfect scores, including the first one, came on the uneven bars, which as you might imagine, was one of the three events Comaneci struck gold. But it was on the balance beam that she truly showed off her skill. The beam is considered one of the most difficult Olympic events, with gymnasts performing pirouettes and backflips on a beam measuring just four inches across. All Nadia did was record three more perfect scores and her second gold medal.
The final gold came in the all-around competition, with the Soviet juggernaut chomping at her heels. In the end, the Russians wouldn't be denied as Kim won the vault and the floor exercises (with two perfect scores of her own) and then led her squad to the all-around team gold medal. The Romanians grabbed the all-around team silver medal and Nadia won the bronze in the floor competition.
Comaneci actually won two more gold medals in 1980 in Moscow, but did not receive nearly as much fanfare due to the United States' boycott of the games. But it's the 1976 games when she captured the hearts of the world and became the first gymnast in history to know what it's like to be perfect.