Nadia Elena Comaneci (born November 12, 1961) is a Romanian gymnast, winner of five Olympic gold medals, and the first to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event. She is one of the most well-known gymnasts in the world and is often credited for popularizing the sport, around the world including the United States.
Comaneci began gymnastics at the age of 6, after coach Bela Karolyi spotted her and a friend turning cartwheels in the schoolyard. She was one of the first students at the gymnastics school established by Károlyi and his wife Marta, who would later defect to the United States and become coaches of many great American gymnasts. Unlike many of the other students at the Károlyi school, Comaneci was able to commute from home for many years because she lived in the area. Comaneci began competing as a member of her hometown team in 1970. In 1971 she participated in her first international competition, a dual junior meet between Romania and Yugoslavia, winning her first all-around title and contributing to the team gold. For the next few years, she competed as a junior in numerous national contests in Romania and additional dual meets with nearby countries such as Hungary, Italy and Poland.
Comaneci's first major international success came at age thirteen, when she nearly swept the 1975 European Championships in Skien, Norway, winning the all-around and gold medals on every single event except floor exercise, where she placed second. She continued to enjoy success in other meets in 1975, winning the all-around at the Champions All competition and placing first in the all-around, vault, beam and bars at the Romanian National Championships. At the Pre-Olympic test event in Montreal, Comaneci won the all-around and the balance beam gold, as well as silvers on the vault, floor and bars behind Soviet Nellie Kim , a gymnast who would prove to be one of her greatest rivals over the subsequent five years of competition. The international community took notice of Comaneci: Associated Press named her their 1975 "Athlete of the Year".
At age 14, Comaneci became the star of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Her uneven bars routine in the team competition became the first in Olympic history to receive the perfect score of 10.0; Comaneci would repeat the feat six more times over the course of the Games. She was the first Romanian gymnast to win the all-around title at the Olympics; she still holds the record as being the youngest Olympic all-around champion ever. Comaneci took home a total of five medals from Montreal, winning the balance beam and uneven bars titles, sharing in the team silver and placing third on the floor exercise, in addition to her all-around gold. Back home in Romania, her success led her to be named a "Hero of Socialist Labor", the youngest Romanian to receive that recognition under the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu.
the 1976 Montreal Games, 14 year old Nadia Comaneci gained eternal fame by earning the first "perfect 10" in the compulsatory routine of uneven bars. She became the first gymnast in the history of Gymnastics to be awarded the highest possible score. Futhermore she won three more gold medals in the individual all-around competition, in uneven bars and balance beam. She would finish her Olympic career with nine 10's and as many medals (five in 1976, four in 1980), including 5 golds
Comaneci successfully defended her European all-around title in 1977, but when questions about the scoring were raised, Ceausescu ordered the gymnasts to return to Romania. The team followed the orders and controversially walked out of the competition during event finals. An overweight and out of shape Comaneci showed up at the 1978 World Championships. A fall from uneven bars resulted in a 4th place finish in the all-around behind Elena Mukhina, Nellie Kim and Natalia Shaposhnikova, but she won the beam title.
In 1979, a newly slim and motivated Comaneci won her third consecutive European overall title, becoming the first gymnast, male or female, to do so. At the World Championships that December, Comaneci led the field after the compulsory competition but was hospitalized prior to the optional portion of the team competition for blood poisoning due to a cut in her wrist from her metal grip buckle. Against doctors' orders, she left the hospital and competed on beam where she scored a 9.95. Her performance helped give the Romanians their first team gold medal. Following her performance, Comaneci spent several days recovering in All Saints Hospital and underwent a minor surgical procedure for the infected hand, which had developed an abcess.
She participated in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, placing second in the all-around to Yelena Davydova. She defended her Olympic title in the balance beam, tied with Kim for the gold medal in the floor exercise, and her Romanian team finished second. Comaneci retired from competition in 1981. She had her official retirement ceremony in Bucharest in 1984, which was attended by the IOC Chairman.
In 1981, Comaneci participated in a gymnastics exhibition tour in the United States. During the course of the tour, her coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi, along with the Romanian team choreographer Geza Pozar, defected. Upon her return to Romania, Comaneci's actions were strictly monitored. She was granted leave to attend the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, but she was heavily guarded and supervised for the entire trip. Aside from the journey to the Olympics, Comaneci was forbidden to leave the country for any reason. "Life..." she wrote in her autobiography, "took on a new bleakness." Working in Romania, between 1984 and 1989, Comaneci was a member of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and helped coach the Romanian junior gymnasts. In November of 1989, a few weeks before the Revolution, she defected with a group of other young Romanians. Her overland journey took her through Hungary, Austria, and finally, to the United States. After settling in the United States, Comaneci spent most of her time touring and promoting lines of gymnastics apparel and aerobic equipment. She also dabbled in modeling, appearing in ads for wedding dresses and Jockey underwear.
In 1994, she became engaged to US gymnast Bart Conner , whom she had met for the first time in 1976 at the American Cup, and returned to Romania for the first time since her defection. Comaneci and Conner were married in Romania on April 27, 1996, holding their wedding reception in the former Presidential Palace. The ceremony was heavily followed by the world wide press and media and was broadcast live throughout Romania. On June 29, 2001, Comaneci became a naturalized citizen of the United States. She has also retained her Romanian passport, making her a dual citizen. Comaneci is active in many charities and international organizations. In 1999, she became the first athlete to be invited to speak at the United Nations to launch the Year 2000 International Year of Volunteers. She is currently the Vice-Chair of the Board Of Directors of International Special Olympics and Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. She has also personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comaneci Children's Clinic, a clinic in Bucharest that provides low-cost and free medical and social support to Romanian children.  In 2003, the Romanian government appointed her as an Honorary Consulate of Romania to the United States to deal with bilateral relations between the two nations.
In the world of gymnastics, Comaneci is the Honorary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, the Honorary President of Romanian Olympic Committee, Ambassador of Sports of Romania and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation. She and her husband own the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, the Perfect 10 Production Company and several sports equipment shops. They are also the editors of International Gymnast magazine. Additionally, Comaneci and Conner have provided television commentary for many gymnastics meets, most recently the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne. Comaneci received the Olympic Order, the highest award given by the International Olympic Committee, in 1984 and 2004. She is the only person to receive this honor twice, and was also the youngest recipient. She has also been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. In December 2003, her book, Letters To A Young Gymnast, was published. The memoir answers questions that she has received in letters from fans. Comaneci has also been the subject of several unofficial biographies, television documentaries and a made-for-television film, Nadia, that was broadcast in the United States shortly before the 1984 Olympics.
Romanian Olympic gold medal gymnast Nadia Comaneci holds the 'Legendary Champions' trophy, that was awarded by the Romanian presidency in this 2006 photo. She stands in front of the Time magazine cover with her picture from August 1976.