After making her Olympics debut, Nadia became the darling of the gymnastics world. In 1976, she won the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year as well as the Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year. Of course, she was receiving a lot of attention from publications and was featured on the cover of many big magazines. When she returned to her home country, her family received a brand new car and a one month vacation from the Romanian government. Nadia had become a star. She was also awarded the Sickle and Hammer Gold Medal for her success and was named a Hero of Socialist Labor, becoming the youngest Romanian to receive this recognition during Nicolae’s administration.
In an interview with Euronews, Nadia was asked whether she felt pressure as a young child being shot to fame “No I didn’t feel it at all because Romania was closed. If people were interested to come and find out more about me, they couldn’t easily come to the country to do that. So after I competed in games I would celebrate for two days and then went back to the gym. So I had no knowledge about what was happening outside.”
On July 18, Nadia Comăneci made Olympic history, when she became the first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10. She was awarded the perfect score during a compulsory team section on the uneven bars. Initially, her score wasn’t clear because the scoreboard wasn’t configured to be able to show a 10. So, her score appeared as a 1.00, and the crowd was unsure of what was going on. However, when they fixed the malfunction, the audience, Nadia, and her coaches went absolutely crazy. She went on to snag six more perfect tens during the Montreal Olympics. Nadia was the first Romanian gymnast to win an all-around gold medal at the Olympics. She is also the youngest gymnast to ever win this title (now they've changed the age minimum of gymnasts at the Olympics so it's impossible to beat).
In an interview with ESPN, Nadia shared "It wasn't my goal to score a 10. Yes, gymnasts aim for perfection, but I never thought about the score. If that's what's in your mind, it will probably mess you up. I just remember trying to stay focused. It takes very little to break your concentration, and then you make mistakes." After this feat, Nadia took over the spotlight from Olga Korbut, the darling of the 1972 Munich Games. Comăneci’s achievements are on display in the entrance of Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.
Nadia’s Rise To Stardom
After being the first gymnast to ever score a 10 at the Olympics, Nadia Comăneci quickly rose to fame and got a lot of attention from the press, to the extent that she had her own theme song. The song was a part of the musical score from the 1971 film Bless the Beasts and Children, and it was originally called Cotton’s Dream.
However, when it was used on a feature piece for ABC’s Wide World of Sports after the Olympics, showing a montage of slo-mo videos and photos of Nadia, it immediately became associated with Nadia. The song became a top-10 single in the fall of 1976 and the composers renamed it “Nadia’s Theme” in her honor.
Going Separate Ways
After the 1976 Olympics, it seemed like Nadia’s life was going perfectly. But, she was actually coming home to much strife. Her parents divorced, which of course deeply impacted the young gymnast and her family.
Things took a major turn for the worse when Romanian sports officials, for unknown reasons, decided that it would be best if Nadia trained with another coach. She had been working with Bela Károlyi since she was 6-years-old. The separation for both of them was heartbreaking. This happened around the same time that her parents split up and it seemed like Nadia’s life was quickly falling apart.
With life on the brink for the young athlete, Nadia felt like there was nowhere left to turn. So, in 1977, at the age of 15-years-old, the gymnast attempted to take her own life by drinking bleach. She ended up in the hospital for two days after, during which she commented that she was “glad because I didn’t have to go to the gym.”
Despite initially denying that she said this, she later confirmed it in an interview with Life magazine in 1990. Following her attempted suicide, the Romanian sports officials agreed to allow Bela Károlyi to become her coach once again.