July 31, 2008

Nadia Comaneci broke onto the world's stage by breaking the usual workings of the summer Olympics. She achieved the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics history at the 1976 Games in Montreal. As silence fell over the Montreal Forum after the teenage Romanian spun flawlessly around the uneven bars, the scoreboard seemed baffled by the performance. It flashed a 1.00.

"One is not a very good score, so I was like, 'I think something is wrong with the scoreboard," said Comaneci, remembering the event.

The company that manufactured the Olympic gymnastics scoreboards had previously inquired about the possibility that a gymnast may score a 10 -- an extra digit would need to be allotted on the board -- but the International Gymnastics Federation dismissed the worry. Call it poor planning. Comaneci racked up six more perfect scores in the '76 Olympics, and amassed nine medals during her gilded career-- five gold, three silver, one bronze.

She left the competitive gymnastics scene in 1984, but her current lifestyle reveals anything but retirement.

Along with her husband Bart Conner, who won two gold medals at the '84 Olympics, Comaneci travels across the country as a motivational speaker. She also contributes to a number of charities and nonprofit organizations, including the Special Olympics and Muscular Dystrophy Association. She and Conner also help run a gymnastics magazine, production company and equipment outlets.

Earlier this year Comaneci appeared on the Donald Trump reality show, Celebrity Apprentice. Alas, she was fired. "It wasn't really my forté because I realized, to survive in the show, you had to be really mean to each other," she said. "I couldn't do that. So, I got kicked out. I would love to be in Dancing With the Stars. I've watched all the seasons and I was even at the taping of the semifinal last season."

In 2003, Comaneci published Letters to a Young Gymnast -- 176 pages of responses to the floods of fan mail she received on a daily basis. "I thought it would be a good idea to put together most of the questions I get all the time and kind of make it like a conversational book with all the gymnasts out there," she said. "I got questions like, 'How do you get over the fear of trying something on the beam?' As I answered them, it became kind of an autobiography."

Her greatest joy these days is 19-month-old son, Dylan Conner, who is no stranger to the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, a 17,000-square-foot gymnastics center in Oklahoma.

"He's only beginning to hang on the bars and jump on the trampoline," Comaneci says. "He's got the genes, but who knows? He may decide to do something like extreme sports."

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