On her return to Bucharest, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu celebrated the young champion. The country even had stamps printed with her effigy. A film, a play, numerous documentaries were made.
Nadia Comăneci was the darling of a nation. But the fairy tale ends there. The Romanian dictator made the champion a standard bearer and a prisoner.
By the end of her career in 1984, Comăneci earned less than 100 euros per month and struggled to pay her bills.
Nadia Comaneci celebrates as the scoreboard shows her perfect score Source: AFP via Getty Images
On 26 November 1989, a month before the fall of the regime, her life changed a second time. She fled Romania and the communist bloc after five days of walking in the cold and the mud.
Her escape was organised by a dishonest man who took advantage of the situation to sell his interviews at an exorbitant price. But Nadia Comăneci was finally free.
Welcomed as a star in New York, she went on to marry an American gymnast who she had first met in Montreal. She now travels to Romania several times a year and runs a gymnastics school for underprivileged children.
Hear Nadia Comăneci’s incredible story in this episode of .
Nadia Comăneci wanted gymnastics to change her life. It did, when at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, she became the first Olympic gymnast to receive 10 out of 10 from the judges. The image of the 14 year old standing next to a scoreboard displaying her mark of 1.00 is iconic.
New episodes of are released monthly, telling the stories of inspiring sporting heroes idolised around the world but perhaps unknown here in Australia.
Gymnastics fans can stay across all the action from the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique with the 2022 World and Challenge Cup series on SBS and SBS On Demand. .
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