Nadia continued to grow as a gymnast and take home more medals. By 1975, she was finally able to compete for senior level competitions and she entered the European Championships in Skien, Norway. This was her first major international success. Here she won the all-around title and gold medals on every event except for floor exercise, where she placed second.
It was her aspiration at the time to compete in the Montreal Olympics, so she decided to enter the American Cup as a warm-up. In Madison Square Garden in March of 1976, one male and one female competitor from each country took to the floor. Nadia won the competition, as she was getting used to doing by now.
Nadia agreed to start training with Bela and by the time she reached the age of seven, she was already training for 2-3 hours a day with him. She became one of the first students at the school in Onesti and because she lived right in the town, there was no need for her to commute, unlike some of the other gymnasts who came from far.
Bela was certainly impressed with the young girl’s hard work and commitment to the sport, but Nadia recalls that the hard work wasn’t always enough. During her earlier competitions, she would fall off the apparatus a lot, however, unlike other girls whom this may have discouraged, it only pushed Nadia to work harder.
Nadia Comăneci competed in her first official competition in 1969, when she was 7-years-old, at the Romanian National Junior Championship. She finished in 13th place. While the competition didn’t go as well as she had hoped, she wasn’t about to allow her disappointing performance to stop her. The gymnast pushed herself to train harder than ever, and the following year in 1970, she once again competed in the same competition, this time finishing first. She became the youngest gymnast ever to win the Romanian Nationals.
Finally, the country was beginning to notice that this little gymnast had fire in her. In 1971, she participated in her first international competition, a meet between Romania and Yugoslavia, where she won her first all-around title. By the time she was 12-years-old, Nadia was living at a state-run gymnastics school and training with Károlyi for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week... definitely not a schedule for the weak hearted.
Kiss For The Cameras!
When Nadia Comăneci mounted the winner’s stand to accept her award for silver, a photographer summoned her and the 18-year-old American standing next to her. “Kiss for the cameras, please!” he shouted, wanting a cute picture of the young, blonde American boy and tiny dark-haired Romanian girl.
That American boy was named Bart Conner, and he was more than happy to give Nadia a tiny kiss on the cheek. Both Nadia and Bart would be heading to the Olympics. They didn’t know it then, but their lives were about to become very entangled from that point on.
First Olympic Games
In 1976, the Montreal Olympic Games became the first Olympic competition that Nadia would enter. Nadia Comăneci was due to compete in several events in Montreal including both team and individual events.
The world didn’t know it at this time, but this young gymnast from a small town in Romania was about to make major history. She was going to do something that no other gymnast had ever done before.