Nadia Comăneci

During the year of 1977, 790 American babies were named "Nadia". The reason for the sudden popularity? A 14-year-old Romanian girl.

In July 1976, the cover of Time, Sports Illustrated and Newsweek had the same protagonist: Nadia Comăneci.

In the Montreal Olympics Games, the athlete amazed the media ... and the judges.

The gymnast became the first to get a perfect score of 10. She left Montreal with six other top scores, three gold medals, a silver one and a bronze one.

The impact was such that, in 1976, nine babies were named "Comaneci".


"No woman gymnast in the history of the Olympics has matched the achievement of this 14-year-old Romanian champion", announced the Media.

The athlete returned to Romania in the midst of "Nadia Mania”. Thousands of people gathered at the airport to welcome her.



The song named in her tribute became an international hit and won a Grammy.

A celebrity in Romania, young Nadia became an international idol.

President Nicolae Ceausescu received her personally and she was honored as the youngest ever heroine of Social Labour.

But the pressure of stardom had begun to take its toll.

Her relationship with the regime had deteriorated: her presence in official events prevented her from properly devote her time to training.

“Ceauscecu family used me to be involved in a lot of political events and I was not a political person, I was a sports person. […] And I didn’t have a private life. And I realised that I would never have a private life as long as that family would be alive”, confessed the athlete.

The regime feared that its brightest star would get captivated by the western lifestyle.


In gymnastics, Nadia continued to triumph, winning four medals in the 1980 Olympic Games.

The following year, she announced her retirement from the competition.



Behind the Iron Curtain, rumours began to circulate about her private life, from her alleged relationship with the son of the Romanian President, to her alleged suicide attempt.

The surveillance intensified when her coach, Bela Karolyi, fled to the United States.

In 1984, Nadia travelled to America, as a guest, to watch the Olympic Games, under close scrutiny of her companions.

Upon her return, the siege tightens: it was forbidden to travel outside Eastern Europe.

“My life drastically changed after the Károlyi defection. I was no longer allowed to travel outside Romania. […] I started to feel like a prisoner. In reality, I'd always been one”, said Nadia.

In November 1989, she decided to flee clandestinely.

“Walked in the middle of the night, six hours. Dangers, snow, ice and mines. […] It was very hard”, she said in an interview.


On the 1st of December, 1989, Nadia Comăneci was landing in New York, escaping the tight mesh of the Romanian communist regime.

”I am very happy because I am here in America, and I wanted for a long time to come here”, she told the Media, still at the airport.

In that same month, President Ceausescu was executed and Romania freed himself from its oppressive regime.

Upon her return to America, Nadia didn’t resemble much the girl with the ponytail who, 13 years before, had charmed the sport's world.

“Nadia was the leaping, socialist princess, perfect in every way, getting 10s for dancing on a rail. She was Cinderella in Iron Curtain tights. This one needs a good vacuuming, and Cinderella’s prince did not already have four children”, wrote the journalist Bernie Lincicome, in December 1989.

The nature of her relationship with Constantin Panait, who had helped her escape from Romania and who had become her agent, raised speculation and tarnished her reputation among Americans.

“The strange and terrible story of the Olympic angel who won our hearts at the 1976 Games – and went to hell in Ceaucescu‘s Romania”, wrote Life, on the 1st of March, 1990.

From her new life in the United States to the nightmare she lived in Romania, the headlines about Nadia’s personal life were abundant..

The Media scandal didn’t stop her from returning to the sport's world.

In the early 90s, she started to devote herself to the gym, promoting tours and supporting sports.


Nadia Comăneci returned to Bucharest in 1994, with the Romanian team that had just won the world title.



“I’m very happy to be back after five years since I left […] I couldn’t believe how many people were at the airport waiting for me”, she revealed at a press conference.

She was joined by Bart Conner.

The two former Olympic athletes had participated - and had come out victorious - in the 1976 American Cup.

In 1996, two decades after the victory, they got married in Bucharest, a ceremony broadcast live on the television of the country.

“When I got married in Bucharest there were 10,000 people on the street. People didn’t go to work that day”, revealed the athlete.

Nadia was back to being a national heroine. "Nadiamania" had returned to Romania – or, perhaps, it never really left.