Nadia Comaneci: A pioneer in perfection

Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci on the asymmetric bars at the Olympic Games in Montreal.    (Photo by Frank Barratt/Getty Images)
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci on the asymmetric bars at the Olympic Games in Montreal. (Photo by Frank Barratt/Getty Images)

The history of the Olympic Games is full of dramatic, emotional and beautiful moments that took place in finals. Every week, relive the most incredible finals you can remember on video. This week, we look at the Montreal 1976 uneven bars final.

The deets

  • Uneven bars (artistic gymnastics) women's final. Montreal 1976 Olympic Games
  • Montreal Forum, 18 July 1976

The background

Nobody is perfect.

It's a statement which was assumed to be true… until the Olympic Games Montreal 1976.

Six years before the Opening Ceremony of those Games, an eight-year-old from Onesti, Romania, began competing in artistic gymnastics. Only a year later, she became the youngest ever athlete to win a senior national championship in Romania.

Her name would never be forgotten: Nadia Comaneci.

She won her first international all-around title at her very first international junior competition in 1971.

She went on to win four gold medals and a silver at the 1975 European Championships, and another gold in the 1975 “Champions All” competition. In other words, Comaneci was a sensation.

If the expectations around her weren’t already great, they skyrocketed when she won the all-around and balance beam events in the Olympic test in Montreal. Her biggest rival for Olympic glory was Nellie Kim, who finished ahead of her in the vault, floor and bars. Kim was a rising star from the Soviet Union, a country that had dominated artistic gymnastics over the previous decades.

In the American Cup, which took place just before the Games, Comaneci was awarded a perfect 10 for her floor routine. It was perhaps a sign for what was coming next.

Key moment

The world wasn't ready for perfection. Not even the scoreboard at Montreal 1976 was ready.

But nonetheless, Comaneci’s uneven bars routine was perfect. Zero mistakes. Not even one.

When she finished, the scoreboard - unable to compute the brilliance she had displayed - showed a score of 1.0.

The judges had in fact awarded her a perfect 10, and with it, Comaneci had become the first gymnast ever to receive a perfect score at the Olympics.

Over the course of the Games, she repeated her perfect score five more times - winning three Olympic gold medals in the all-around, uneven bars and balance beam.

Comaneci makes perfect 10

Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci becomes the first Olympian to earn a perfect 10 with a stunning uneven bars routine at Montreal 1976.

The outcome

After her Montreal heroics, Comaneci became an international star and continued in her pursuit of perfection.

She won two more gold medals at Moscow 1980, in addition to two world championship golds, nine European golds and two world cup golds.

When Comaneci retired in 1984, she remained an inspiration for other gymnasts. After all, she had changed the sport forever.

Comaneci is now 58-years-old and continues to be involved in sport. She runs a gymnastics centre in Romania, and serves as the honorary president of the Romanian Olympic Committee. She is also a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation. On top of all of that, she has twice received the Olympic Order.

Perhaps it would have been unimaginable to see her move away from sports, as her legacy as a gymnast is so important - a legacy of someone who has achieved perfection in a world that wasn’t ready for it.