The Romanian Star

by Anthony Hania



The Romanians don't have a lot to cheer about, except when it comes to gymnastics. In Romania, gymnastics is very popular. The Romanian government spends tremendous amounts of money to support gymnastics. The national gymnastics coach, Octavian Bellu, said that the government knows that this kind of support helps with Romania's image throughout the world. He also said that although Romania may be nowhere in certain respects, it is in first place in gymnastics. That is exactly where Nadia Comaneci finds herself. "Five times Olympic champion, twice world champion and three times all-round European champion," Nadia Comaneci is the epitome of Romanian gymnastics. (Timofte, Reuter Textline).

When one talks about Romanian gymnastics, one cannot help but equate it with Nadia Comaneci. At the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, she was fourteen years old when she won three gold medals by scoring seven perfect "10s." She had received a place in sports history by setting this impossible record.


In November 1989, just three weeks before what was known as the bloodiest of the Eastern European revolution, Comaneci left the country. This was the time when communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was in power leading the communist regime in Romania. Nadia's withdrawal infuriated Ceausescu which led him to order his secret police to set up troops around the borders. Comaneci fled to the United States saying that it was a mere coincidence that it occurred right before the revolution. In April 1994, Nadia Comaneci was in Australia as an honorary guest of the World gymnastics championships. There she announced that she would return to her home country. Sometime in November 1994, five years after she left Romania, Comaneci decided to return to her homeland. She said that she wanted to wait for a day that would be a big festivity. She said that she would have returned immediately after the revolution, but that she had a difficult life. In any case, that didn't stop the country from celebrating the star gymnast's return. It was almost like a national holiday. The country loves Nadia. People screamed out her name just as they did whenever she performed. She was treated as if she had never left. "In a country which has had little to cheer since Christmas 1989 anti-communist revolution, the visit by the 32-year-old Comaneci has national importance with calls on the President Ian Iliescu and Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu." Timofte, Reuter Textline). Comaneci went to Romania on a ten day visit. During this time, meeting with the president and Prime Minister stirred up political upheaval from the likes of opposing politicians. "'For ten days, Nadia seemed to do her utmost not to leave the ranks of the powerful,' opposition Democratic Convention secretary Cristian Tiberiu Popescu told Reuters." (Timofte, Reuter Textline). Nadia also met with the head of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Teoctist. Teoctist said that he feels he had something to do with Nadia's success in Montreal because he had blessed the stadium where she performed. Because it was Nadia who requested the meeting with Teoctist, he had a chance to present his thoughts on how gymnastics had evolved since the overthrow of communism. "'Under the communist regime they (gymnasts) had to hide it when they wanted to make the sign of the cross before a contest, now they can do it openly,' he said." (Timofte, Reuter Textline). Nadia's mother, Stefania said that when the priest christened her daughter as a baby, she sprung from the vessel. The priest then told everyone that she would go very far in life.


In addition to meeting with these significant people, Nadia also participated in a fashion show. Furthermore, Nadia performed in a gymnastic exhibition with her fiance, Bart Conner. She wore a crushed velvet leotard in which she accomplished several cartwheels in a slow floor exercise. She performed in front of five thousand fans many whom were too young to have had a chance to see her when she was just fourteen.

Upon her return, Comaneci offered $100,000 to help train other athletes. "'I didn't have this money until now, I have it now and I will give them to developing Romanian gymnastics,' Comaneci told a news conference." (Timofte, Reuter Textline). "This is an opportunity for me to continue in the sport I love by helping to provide children with training programs. It was always a dream of mine to help gymnastics in my country." (Reuter Textline). Nadia said that she would also consider donating more money to build a sports hall in Onerti, her native city. Now thirty-five years of age, Comaneci said that despite the political upheavals, gymnastics had experienced little change. "The community may have fallen, but the gymnastics stayed the same, " she said. (Reuter Textline). Bellu said that it is the combination of discipline and government patronage that keeps Romanian gymnastics at the top. "We haven't changed anything in our style of work and our rules..., we still have the same discipline, the same seriousness as in the old days." (Bale, Reuter Textline). The Romanian government knows how important gymnastics is for the country. For example, one of the new members of the Romanian gymnastics team, Livinia Milosovici, and her teammates decided to form a strike. This immediately caused the Prime Minister to intercede by offering substantial bonuses for excellent international performances.


Bellu stated that today, "young gymnasts follow the Nadia legend, they look back on her movements" (Reuter Textline). Comaneci said that she would not be who she is today if it had not been for the rigorous training of the Ceausescu era. Ceausescu exploited Romanian gymnastics to provide symbols of the triumph of communism. Comaneci's return to her native country was very emotional especially since she had not seen her father in half a decade. She decided to bring along her fianc, American gymnast, Bart Conner. She said that she would never live in Romania again because she had a new life with her connections in the United States.

Although Comaneci fled from her country without ever returning once in five years, giving no justified reason for her immediate departure, she is still one of the most prominent figures ever to have emerged from Romania. She is a clear example of someone who is proud of her country, who has given back to her country, and has received and will always receive commendations from her native country. Romanians have and always will be proud of Nadia Comaneci. It is very interesting to see how a former gymnast transformed into a national hero. This indeed demonstrates to the world how one person can make a positive difference in a country where very little progress has emerged. She is a reminder of the once very dominant communist era, but with her constant support of Romanian-gymnastics, this will help lead the transition to a more liberated Romania.



"I will always be a Romanian no matter where I live." (Reuter Textline).




NEXIS- Search through Europe-Romania-Nadia Comaneci.

Articles: Timofte, Radu. "Comaneci to have wedding ceremony in Romania."

Timofte, Radu. "'Perfect 10' Nadia pays a call on Patriarch."

Bale, Peter. "Gymnastics-'Perfect 10' Nadia takes the catwalk home."

Timofte, Radu. "Gymnastics star Nadia Comaneci to return home."

"Gymnastics- Nadia to help next generation."

Timofte, Radu. "Comaneci gives $100,000 to Romanian gymnastics."

Bale, Peter. "Nadia Comaneci still a 'Perfect 10' to Romanians."




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