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Nadia Comaneci

Fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast, Nadia Comaneci, delighted crowds at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada.

She won three gold medals, a silver and a bronze, scoring the first perfect score of 10.00 in Olympic gymnastics – and going on to do it seven times during the games.

Having been programmed to reject 10 out of 10 as impossible, the Olympic computer was baffled by Comaneci’s maximum scores.

Comaneci was born in 1961 in a small Romanian town called Onesti. When she was only 10 years old, her parents separated, and she stayed with her mother Ștefania.

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Growing up, she was always an energetic child. In an interview, Ștefania said Nadia was so hyperactive that she enrolled her into gymnastic classes just to tire her out.

Nadia fell in love with the sport and used any chance she had to jump around and practice. This was when her mother realized Nadia’s potential.

Nadia was spotted by top Romanian coach Bela Karolyi and trained intensively for years. She was nicknamed “Little Miss Perfect”.

When Karolyi defected to the USA in 1981, the Romanian government was afraid that Comaneci might defect as well and the government assigned special agents to monitor her every move. Her phone calls were recorded and listened to, her mail was read, and she was banned from visiting Western countries. Her life became increasingly difficult with constant government involvement in her private affairs.

Despite the constant government surveillance, Nadia contacted Romanian nationalist and anti-communist Constantin Panait who somehow escaped to Florida. He promised to smuggle her to America and in November 1989 she escaped from Romania, travelling through Hungary and Austria until she was finally able to take a plane to the United States.

Comaneci moved to Oklahoma in 1991 to help her friend Bart Conner, another Olympic gold medalist, with his gymnastics school. The pair were together for four years before they became engaged, marrying in 1996.