A requiem for perfectionism - Nadia Comaneci
Young athletes in gymnastics are rightly granted the clemency which the older counterparts do not enjoy. In this age of competition, with technology assessing every single component of our body, why is it still that we yearn for perfection? There is another school of thought that believes in a pragmatic approach- try to reach somewhere close to this state of perfection since it is humanly impossible to be perfect. Or as someone says “The last man who was perfect on this planet was crucified.”
Gymnastics is a gruelling and an exacting sport. It takes several years for the gymnast to master the sport. And when the grandest stage has the best people from all around the globe, it is that much more necessary to hone the skills. It is a make or break scenario performing in front of packed arena at the Olympic Games.
At the Montreal Olympics, 1976, a 14-year-old Romanian girl reached the position that was ‘unattainable’. Nadia Comaneci’s exploits inside the gymnastics arena on the 18th July, 1976 are yet to be matched.
Comaneci began with her performance on the uneven bars. It was a flawless performance. The judges could not find a single flaw in the young teenager’s recital. But there was a problem. The scorecard inside the arena had only three digits with a dot in between the first and the second digit. It was designed to give scores like 9.85 or 9.75. So the organizers were in a fix. Comaneci’s exploits caught them flat-footed.
The scorecard displayed 1.00; it actually meant a perfect ten. There were six more occasions when that happened in the 1976 games and it was done by Comaneci only. Getting a perfect score is impossible at the Olympics now.
The Guardian reported back then that “She seemed almost inhuman in her exactness.”
This inspired lot of people from all around the globe to take up the sport. Romania got a new national legend- Comaneci – who had won their country’s first Olympic gold medal.
After her exploits there was a myth in urban USA that whenever a baby girl, was born she was christened with a name ‘Nadia’.
When Comaneci was young she was inspired by Ludmilla Tourischeva and diminutive Olga Korbut. She got the chance to compete against her favourite gymnast Korbut at the 1976 Olympics. Although Comaneci won gold in uneven bars, beam and all-round disciplines, Romania came second in the overall team event behind Korbat’s Russia.
The national superstar entered the boarding school run by her coach Bela Karolyi and his wife. Comaneci endured pain and cruelty of her coach from the tender age of six.
Comaneci won two gold and two silver medals at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Romania saw a brutal regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, who wanted Comaneci for propaganda purposes. Comaneci’s coach defected to the US and the star athlete was no longer allowed to leave her country. In 1989, Comaneci escaped the country and reached the US. She was criticized for her flashy lifestyle. She did not have a normal childhood, and was a victim and a prisoner.
In 2000, Laureus World Sports Academy named her as one of the athletes of the century. Comaneci’s individual brilliance propelled her to new heights and perfection got another synonym- Nadia Comaneci.
Here’s a video of Nadia’s perfect 10 routine: