Nadia Comaneci made her mark on the gymnastics scene and on the world with her breathtaking performances at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada. At the age of 14 Comaneci became the first gymnast to earn a perfect ten score in Olympic competition. In two Olympic appearances Comaneci earned five gold, three silver, and one bronze medal. After she retired from the sport she immigrated to the United States from Romania. She has remained active in gymnastics as a coach, analyst, magazine publisher, and exhibition athlete.
Nadia Elena Comaneci was born on November 12, 1961, in Onesti (formally known as Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej), Romania. She was named after a heroine Nadejda from a Russian film that her parents had seen before her birth. She was the oldest of two children born to Gheorghe and Stefania Comaneci. Her younger brother Adrian was born six years later. Her father worked as an auto mechanic, while her mother was an office employee.
Comaneci was an energetic child who loved to explore new things and to be active. "If ever a child aged its parents overnight, it was me," wrote Comaneci in her 1981 autobiography titled Nadia. "I was virtually uncontrollable." Comaneci found an outlet for all of her energy in gymnastics, which she began to learn in kindergarten. When she was six years old, Comaneci
and a friend were spotted doing cartwheels by the prominent Romanian gymnastic coach, Bela Karolyi . He and his wife Marta were looking for young children to train for the Romanian National Junior Team.
Discovered by Famous Coach
The Karolyis invited Comaneci to train with them. She attended gymnastics lessons two to three hours a day. From the beginning Comaneci showed that she was fearless and willing to try new and difficult moves. She also exhibited a good work ethic and practiced her routines on her own initiative. In 1969 Comaneci entered her first major competition, the Romanian National Junior Championships. She placed thirteenth that year. However, she returned the following year to win the Junior Championships, which was the first of many victories for Comaneci.
Comaneci held her Junior Championship title for the next few years. By the time she was 12 years old she moved into a state-run gymnastics training school where she trained with Karolyi for eight hours a day, six days a week. Comaneci continued to improve her technique, adding increasingly difficult moves to her routines, and she continued to be successful at championships. In 1976 Comaneci won first place for the all around competition, as well as for vault, uneven bars, and balance beam at both the Romanian Championships and the European Championships held in Norway. At the European Championships she upset the two-time defending champion, Lyudmila Turischeva, who was expecting another victory.
Comaneci took the world gymnastics scene by storm with her impeccable technique and her daring moves. However, her stoic style was often compared with the bubbly personality of Russian champion Olga Korbut , who won the hearts of the audience with her smiles and her tears. In contrast, Comaneci rarely smiled and was often perceived as cold or sad. Comaneci explained in her autobiography Nadia that "a gymnast must always be controlled, during training and, even more importantly, during a performance. The sport demands total concentration, and a gymnast gets used to the idea that any extraneous expression or thought is a waste of energy."
Earned a Perfect Ten at the Olympics
Despite her demeanor Comaneci managed to win over both the judges and the audience at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada. She also made history at these games by becoming the first gymnast to score a perfect ten on an apparatus. The record breaking moment came with Comaneci's performance on the uneven bars. However, the judging equipment was not equipped to display the four digits of a 10.00 score, so the scoreboard simply showed 1.00. The crowd soon understood the meaning of the score when the announcer declared, "Ladies and gentleman, for the first time in Olympic history, Nadia Comaneci has received the score of a perfect ten," reported Septima Green in Top 10 Women Gymnasts.
Comaneci earned a total of seven perfect ten scores at those Olympic Games. She won three gold medals for the all-around competition, uneven bars, and balance beam. She also won a silver medal for the team competition and a bronze medal for the floor exercise. Comaneci became the first Romanian to win the all-around title and she was also the youngest all-around champion at 14 years old. "The technical purity of her performance is her most brilliant characteristic. Physically she has strength, speed, and flexibility. Mentally, she has intelligence, phenomenal powers of concentration—and courage," Bela Karolyi told Peter Bonventre of Newsweek.
|1961||Born on November 12 in Onesti, Romania|
|1967||Begins training with Bela and Marta Karolyi|
|1969||Places 13th in first national competition|
|1970||Wins Romanian National Junior Championships|
|1975||Wins five gold medas at European Championships|
|1976||Scores first perfect ten at Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada|
|1976||Wins three gold, one silver, and one bronze medal at Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada|
|1977||Wins two gold medals at European Championships|
|1978||Wins three gold and one bronze medal at European Championships|
|1980||Wins two gold and two silver medals at Olympic Games in Moscow, U.S.S.R.|
|1981||Wins five gold medals at World University Games|
|1984||Retires from gymnastics|
|1989||Immigrates to the United States|
|1996||Marries American gymnast Bart Conner|
|2001||Becomes a United States citizen|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1969||Thirteenth place Romanian National Junior Championships|
|1970-71||First place Romanian National Junior Championship|
|1971||First place all-around, vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise, Cup of the Romanian Gymnastic Federation|
|1972||First place team and all-around, Romanian National Junior Championship|
|1972||First place team, Cup of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation|
|1973||First place all-around, vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise, International Championships of Romania|
|1973||First place team and all-around, Romanian Senior Championships|
|1974||First place team and all-around, Romania-Poland-USA Junior TriMeet|
|1975||First place all-around, vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise, European Championships|
|1975||First place team, all-around, vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise, Romanian Championships|
|1976||First place all-around, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise, second place team, Olympic Games|
|1976||Named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year|
|1977||First place all-around and uneven bars, European Championships|
|1977||First place team and all-around, Balkan Championships|
|1977||First place all-around, International Championship of Romania|
|1977||First place all-around, Orleans International|
|1978||First place bars, second place vault and team, World Championships|
|1979||First place all-around, vault, and floor exercise, third place balance beam, European Championships|
|1979||First place all-around, International Championship of Romania|
|1979||First place team, World Championships|
|1979||First place vault and floor exercise, second place balance beam, World Cup|
|1979||First place team, all-around, vault, and uneven bars, second place floor exercise, Balkan Championships|
|1980||First place uneven bars, International Championship of Romania|
|1980||First place bars and floor exercise, second place team and all-around, Olympic Games|
|1981||First place team, all-around, vault, uneven bars, and balance beam, University Games|
|1984||Received Olympic Order Award|
|1991||Inducted into Sudafed International Women's Sports Hall of Fame|
|1993||Inducted into International Gymnastics Hall of Fame|
|1996||Named Honorary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation|
|1996||Honored in Atlanta's Opening Ceremonies as an Unforgettable Olympian|
|1998||Received Flo Hyman Award celebrating National Girls and Women in Sport Day|
|2001||Named Sportswoman of the Century, World Sports Awards|
Comaneci also tried to endear the crowd by smiling and waving more often than she had in other competitions, but this did not change the media's impression of her as an unhappy child. "Here was an example of a dour, cheerless child driven to icy perfection by a totalitarian state," wrote Robert Lindsey of the New York Times. After the 1976 Olympics rumors also circulated claiming that Comaneci was no longer a top gymnast because she had gained a lot of weight and had tried to commit suicide. Comaneci denied those rumors and continued to compete internationally.
Returned to the Olympics for More Gold
Comaneci continued to win medals at the European Championships in 1977 and 1979 and the World Championships in 1978. In 1979 she became the only woman to win three European all-around titles. Comaneci returned to the Olympics in 1980 in Moscow, U.S.S.R. The Americans boycotted the event as a political statement against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, Comaneci's biggest competition came from the Soviets. Unfortunately Comaneci's performance at the 1980 Olympics was not perfect. In fact, she fell off of the uneven bars during the team competition. "More than my dignity had been bruised in that fall, and as I gingerly made my way back to the bench, I was half aware of the sympathetic stares from some of my fellow competitors. At first I felt angry, and then strangely numb, until I sat down when I was furious with myself," Comaneci wrote in her autobiography Nadia.
To make matters worse, Comaneci was also not able to defend her all around champion title. Three women, including Comaneci, were in the running for the title when they all went to do their final apparatus. Comaneci gave a spectacular performance on the balance beam, but the judges only awarded her a score of 9.85. This meant that she placed second in the all around, behind Soviet gymnast Yelena Davydova. Coach Karolyi was furious and disputed the score, charging that the host team was influencing the results so that their gymnast became champion. The score remained unchanged and Comaneci had to settle for a silver all-around medal. Despite these difficulties, Comaneci also won gold medals for balance beam and floor exercise, and a team silver medal.
In 1981 Comaneci completed in the World University Games in Bucharest, Romania, where she won first place for the team competition, all around competition, vault, uneven bars, and balance beam. This was her last major competition and she officially retired from gymnastics in 1984. "I regret that from now on I will never know the excitement of competition," Nadia was quoted in the New York Times.
Escaped from Communism
The 1980s were a difficult time for Comaneci. She was living in a totalitarian country that was not only politically repressive, but also struggling economically. Coach Karolyi and his wife defected to the United States in 1981. The Romanian government feared that she might do the same so her international travels were restricted and tightly guarded. In many other ways, however, Comaneci was treated as a celebrity. She and her family lived in a large home, she owned a car, and she had many privileges that her fellow countrymen did not enjoy. After retirement she finished college at the University of Physical Education and she worked as a state coach.
Despite her celebrity status Comaneci was unhappy because of the difficult living conditions in her country and because of her lack of personal freedom. In 1989 she decided to defect to the United States with the help of her manager Konstantin Panit, a Romanian expatriate who worked as a roofer in Florida. When she arrived in the United States Comaneci told Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, "I am very happy because I am here in America. I wanted for a long time to come here, but I didn't have anyone to help me."
However, the American media did not exactly welcome Comaneci. Stories circulated that she and Panit were a couple, even though Panit had a wife and children in Florida. Comaneci maintained that she was held hostage by Panit who was trying to exploit Comaneci's fame for his own financial gain. He threatened to send her back to Romania if she did not cooperate. Eventually her gymnast friends and former coach Karolyi intervened on her behalf. Panit fled with Comaneci's money, but she finally had her freedom.
Where Is She Now?
Comaneci lives in Norman, Oklahoma with her husband Bart Conner. The couple own and operate the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, which trains more than 1,000 students. Comaneci has also opened a gymnastics school in Romania. The couple produces and performs in gymnastics exhibitions. In addition, they own Perfect 10 Productions, which sponsors a Fox television show that analyzes European gymnastics competitions, and they have hosted a food and fitness show on the cable Food Network. They also manufacture gymnastics products, such as leather hand guards and tumbling and vaulting shoes. Conner and Comaneci co-publish International Gymnast magazine with coach Paul Ziert, and Comaneci serves as editor of the magazine. Comaneci has served as a spokesperson for a variety of products, including Jockey, Danskin Avon, Kodak, Coca-Cola, and organizations, such as the Women's Sports Foundation and the National Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Both Comaneci and Conner are active in numerous charities, including the Special Olympics.
Comaneci spent the following year in Montreal with the family of Alexandru Stefu, a fellow Romanian. She then moved to Norman, Oklahoma to work with coach Paul Ziert. She also developed a strong friendship with American gymnast Bart Conner . The two gymnasts performed in exhibitions together an eventually began dating. They married in Romania in 1996. They both work as coaches at the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Norman and they also have several other business ventures together. In 2001 Comaneci became a United States citizen.
For over 40 years Comaneci has managed to captivate the world both as an athlete and in her personal life. She is one of the most memorable Olympic athletes who has dedicated her career to promoting the sport of gymnastics. According to Frank Litsky of the New York Times, Comaneci gives the following advice to the young gymnasts that she trains: "If you go for a little gold every day instead of saving that energy for a big championship, that's the best way."
Address: 3206 Bart Conner Dr., Norman, OK 73072-2406. Phone: (405) 447-7500.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY COMANECI:
Nadia, London: Proteus, 1981.
Cohen, Joel. Superstars of Women's Gynmastics. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997.
The Complete Marquis Who's Who. Marquis Who's Who, 2001.
Encyclopedia of World Biography. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1998.
Great Women in Sports. Visible Ink Press, 1996.
Green, Septima. Top 10 Women Gymnasts. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1999.
Amdur, Neil. "Miss Comaneci Loses to Russian as Result is Marred by Dispute." The New York Times (July 25, 1980): A15.
Atkin, Ross. "Nadia Comaneci Finds Balance Off the Beam." The Christian Science Monitor (June 17, 1996): 14.
Bonventre, Peter. "Princess of the Games." Newsweek (August 2, 1976): 68.
Brady, Erik. "Tiny Comaneci Was Colossus in '76. At Age 14, Gymnast Spun Perfection to Earn First 10." USA Today (July 18, 1996): 10C.
Gray, Kevin. "Head Over Heels: For Gold Medal Gymnasts Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner, Love Is Something to Flip For." People Weekly (March 17, 1995): 105.
"Gymnast Nadia Comaneci Leaps for Freedom and Lands in the Arms of a Married Father of Four." People Weekly (December 18, 1989): 116.
Hallman, Charley. "Perfect in the Past, Comaneci Sees a Brighter Future." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (April 11, 1996).
Heller, Dick. "Comaneci Made Perfection Routine in 1976 Olympics." The Washington Times (July 29, 2002): C13.
"Here Flips the Bride." Sports Illustrated (May 6, 1996): 22-23.
Jenkins, Sally. "Comaneci Arrives in New York; Ex-Gymnastics Star Gets Refugee Status." The Washington Post (December 2, 1989): D1.
Leibowitz, Elissa. "Comaneci Vaults Back into the Spotlight; Olympic Gymnast Receives Women's Sports Foundation Award." The Washington Post (February 6, 1998): C02.
Lindsey, Robert. "Nadia Comaneci Still Glows as Images of 1976 Recede." The New York Times (July 29, 1984).
Litsky, Frank. "Comaneci's Landing in the West Remains Perfect." The New York Times (August 12, 2001).
Lorge, Barry. "Comaneci Finally Wins Two Golds as Judging Controversies Continue." The Washington Post (July 26, 1980): F1.
"Nadia Comaneci, Now Married to US Gymnast Bart Conner; Her Two Gold Medals in '80 'Better than any American Did.'" The Plain Dealer (September 11, 2000): 9C.
"Nadia Comaneci's Road to Freedom." USA Today (December 5, 1989): 9C.
"Nadia Comaneci Takes Gold." The New York Times (July 22, 1981): B5.
"Nadia Comaneci Timeline." The Times-Picayune (November 28, 1999): C14.
"New Nadia." U.S. News and World Report (December 11, 1989): 18.
"Perfection Personified." Time (August 5, 1996): 18.
Peter, Josh. "The First to Perfection; Nadia Comaneci's Work Ethic and Technical Genius Made Her the Best." The Times-Picayune (November 28, 1999): C14.
Raboin, Sharon. "Comaneci Set the Standard." USA Today (July 30, 1999): 9C.
Schmalz, Jeffrey. "Scorn Gives Comaneci a Lesson in Image." The New York Times (December 13, 1989): A22.
Schneider, Karen S. "After Escaping Her Romanian Svengali, Nadia Comaneci Tries to Get Her Live Back on the Beam." People Weekly (November 26, 1990): 52.
Stoeltje, Melissa Fletcher. "Let's Do Lunch With Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci." The Houston Chronicle (May 20, 1993): 3.
Sullivan, Kevin. "Comaneci Finds Her Balance: Defection in 1989 Leads to New Life." The Washington Post (October 12, 1995): D06.
"Tearful Comaneci Farewell." The New York Times (May 7, 1984): C10.
Weir, Tom. "Changed Comaneci Eager for Visit Home."USA Today (October 18, 1994): 3C.
White, Carolyn. "Comaneci Spreads Gymnastics Word." USA Today (February 5, 1998): 6C.
White, Carolyn. "Karolyi Doesn't Doubt Comaneci Charge." USA Today (October 17, 1990): 2C.
Gymn Forum. http://www.gymn-forum.com/bios/comaneci.html (December 18, 2002).
International Gymnast Magazine. http://www.intlgymnast.com/magazine.html (December 31, 2002).
Nadia Comaneci Bio. http://www.nadiacomaneci.com/nadia_comaneci_bio.htm (December 31, 2002).
Sketch by Janet P. Stamatel
Bart Conner was the first U.S. male gymnast to receive a gold medal in international competition. He is credited with helping to bring the American men's gymnastics team to a first place finish at the 1984 Olympics and is remembered as the only American male gymnast to win a gold medal at every level of competition.
A Champion is Nurtured
Bart Conner was born on March 28, 1958, in Chicago, the son of Harold and Jackie Conner. Conner's father, an engineer, was the director of the School of Construction Science. Conner was an athletic youngster growing up in Morton Grove, Illinois; he played pee wee football and enjoyed speed skating. His participation in an elementary school gymnastics program at age ten led him to seek further training at the local Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). He entered regional competition at age eleven, winning medals in pommel horse and tumbling. In 1972 Conner finished in first-place in the all-around competition at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Olympics Junior Nationals.
As a member of the gymnastic team at Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois, Conner took first place trophies both in all-around competition and on parallel bars, at the Illinois State Championships in 1974. As the U.S. Gymnastics Federation (USGF) elite junior division all-around champion, and AAU junior national champion that year, Conner received recognition as the outstanding high school gymnast in Illinois. In 1975 he tied for first place at the USA Men's (USGF) all-around championship.
In 1976, after winning the first McDonald's American Cup, Conner was named to the U.S. team for the Montreal Olympics. He finished at forty-sixth place in
the all-around preliminaries, but distinguished himself as the youngest member of the team.
At the University of Oklahoma in Norman from 1976-79, Conner trained under Coach Paul Ziert. Oklahoma took the Big Eight and National College Athletic Association (NCAA) gymnastics championships in 1978, and Conner won the NCAA all-around title that year. Also in 1978 he won all-American honors and won a second American Cup. Soon his reputation as the top U.S. male gymnast was rivaled only by his contemporary, Kurt Thomas.
At the World Championships in 1979 Conner placed first on parallel bars, to become the first American man to take the gold in international gymnastics competition. He won the USA Men's all-around championship with a score of 114.25 that year and won gold medals on pommel horse and parallel bars at the World Cup.
Conner was the top qualifier for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, but an American boycott of the Moscow venue that year kept the team from competition. The boycott provided Conner with ample time to recuperate from a torn right bicep, and he returned to Norman to complete work on an undergraduate degree in journalism and public relations.
After winning American Cup Championships in 1981 and again in 1982, Conner pushed the envelope of his athletic prime when late in 1983, on December 3, a slip during a performance in Japan caused another torn bicep. With only six months remaining before the Olympic trials, he held out hope of making the 1984 team.
Still ailing in May, at the USGF championships in Evanston, Illinois, Conner withdrew from the competition on the second day, despite a strong second place showing in the compulsories. The pullout left him deficient in the qualification points necessary to place on the Olympic team. He petitioned successfully to the Olympic Committee to make an exception because of the circumstance and after a sixth place finish at the subsequent Olympic trials earned a spot on the 1984 team.
At the Olympics in Atlanta, Conner won a gold medal on parallel bars, scoring two perfect tens. The U.S. team won a gold medal in the all-around competition with a score of 591.40, besting China's score of 590.80. Conner expressed his pleasure to the Omaha World-Herald and praised his teammates succinctly, "Nothing matches a team victory … because you have six times as much emotion."
When the hoopla subsided, Conner published a book, Winning the Gold, in 1985. He devoted much of his time to bringing professional gymnastics to the level of an art-sport—Just as professional ice skaters move from competition to exhibition and onward, to full-blown paid performances, Conner envisioned a similar career path for professional gymnasts. Endorsements provided him with financial subsidy, and he appeared on television and in movies.
Mr. Nadia Comaneci
Five years after winning the gold, the grit and determination of Olympic competition segued into an international romance for Bart Conner when in 1989 he became personally entwined in the dramatic personal life of gold-medal Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci . It was some years earlier in 1976 when the two first met at Madison Square Garden, during a pre-Olympic gymnastics exhibition. In the rush of reporters after the program, Comaneci—then an anonymous fourteen-year-old—posed with Conner who kissed her cheek for a promotional photo.
More than ten years passed, and in 1989 Comaneci escaped under cover of night from her homeland, to seek asylum in the United States. Soon, rumors surfaced that she was being held in Florida against her will and Conner contacted her. He offered moral support through her difficult time in a strange country, and in 1991 she joined him at his home in Norman. The friendship flourished, and the following year Conner and Comaneci established a gymnastics academy. Conner proposed marriage to her in 1994; they were married in 1996.
The Conner-Comaneci nuptials were among the most lavish of the decade. Held in Bucharest, the ceremonies spanned two days, beginning on April 26 with a civil ceremony at the Parliamentary Palace. A religious ritual on the following day was held at the historic Casin Monastery. A banquet, hosted by the future president of Romania was attended by dignitaries of the sports world and government officials alike. So elaborate were the national preparations in Romania to honor Comaneci at her wedding, that Conner was left to remark, "Next to her … I'm going to look like the little guy on top of the wedding cake … After April 27, I'll be known as Mr. Nadia Comaneci."
|1958||Born March 28 in Chicago, Illinois|
|1976||Wins a place on U.S. Olympic 7th Team, places 46th in all-around preliminaries|
|1980||Wins a place on Olympic Team that boycotts games in Moscow|
|1984||Wins a place on Olympic Team|
|1992||Establishes the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy|
|1996||Marries Nadia Comaneci in Bucharest, Romania on April 26-27|
Awards and Accomplishments
|Conner is the only American to win gold medals at every level of competition.|
|1972||Amateur Athletic Union Jr. Olympic Jr. Nationals all-around champion|
|1974||U.S. Gymnastics Federation elite junior division all-around champion; Amateur Athletic Union junior national champion; State of Illinois high school all-around and parallel bars champion; named outstanding high school gymnast for the State of Illinois|
|1975||USA Men's all-around co-champion; Amateur Athletic Union national elite all-around champion; national high school all-around champion|
|1976||American Cup all-around champion; national high school all-around champion|
|1978||National College Athletic Association all-around champion; USA parallel bars champion|
|1979||USA Men's all-around champion; wins two gold medals at World Cup: for pommel horse and parallel bars; National College Athletic Association floor exercise champion; US Olympic Festival champion for vault, parallel bars, and high beam; USA Championship: all-around, pommel horse, rings, and parallel bars; USA World Trials all-around champion; World Championship 3rd Team, parallel bars champion; World Cup champion for pommel horse|
|1981-82||American Cup champion|
|1983||USA Champion for pommel horse|
|1984||Wins two Olympic gold medals: for parallel bars and team competition|
|1991||Inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame|
|1996||Inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame|
|1997||Inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame; inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame|
Working against painful osteoarthritis in his left elbow, right knee, and lower back, Conner has been on therapy since his 1983 biceps injury. At that time he underwent surgery to re-attach the biceps, and in 1985 he underwent knee reconstruction. Overall he endured a series of nine operations.
In the early 2000s, he continues to practice gymnastics in 45-minute sessions daily. Managed by Ziert, Conner maintains a limited agenda on the exhibition circuit where he is known for his artistic pairs performances with Comaneci. Slowed only minimally by the pain of osteoarthritis, that debilitating condition nonetheless creates increasing obstacles as he approaches middle age. His involvement with an osteoarthritis public awareness campaign called Boost Education of Arthritis Treatments (B.E.A.T.) provides a positive outlet for Conner, allowing him to bring awareness of the disease as well as its various remedies into the public domain.
While serving as a color commentator for several news networks, including ESPN, and ABC, Conner additionally operates his own company, Perfect 10 Productions, in partnership with a group of fellow Olympians. He and Comaneci host a fitness program on cable television. He is active as an inspirational speaker and sits on the Executive Board of Special Olympics International. He is a national vice-president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Conner stands 5-feet-5-inches tall and weighs 125 pounds. As a tribute to his historic contributions to men's gymnastics in the United States, he was enshrined in 1991 into the U.S. Olympic Hall Fame. He was inducted to the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1996, and into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1997.
Address: c/o IMG Speakers New York, 825 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10019. Fax: (212) 246-1596. Phone: (212) 774-6735. Address: c/o Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, 3206 Bart Conner Dr., P.O. Box 720217, Norman, Oklahoma 73070-4166. Fax: (405) 447-7600. Phone:(405) 447-7500. Email: [email protected] On-line: www.bartconnergymnastics.com/.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY CONNER:
(With Paul Ziert) Winning the Gold. New York: Warner Books, 1985.
Eisenhart, Henry A. Great Athletes Salem Press/Magill Books, 2001: 477.
Markoe, Arnold, ed., and Kenneth T. Jackson. Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2002.
Atlanta Journal/Atlanta Constitution (April 12, 1996).
New York Times Biographical Service (January, 1984): 776.
Omaha World-Herald (August 1, 1984): 1.
People (August 7, 2000): 131.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (April 10, 1996): 3C.
Sketch by G. Cooksey
(b. 28 March 1958 in Chicago, Illinois), Olympic gymnastics champion who is the only American gymnast, male or female, to win gold medals at every level of junior, national, and international competition.
Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove, Illinois, Conner's introduction to gymnastics occurred at the age of ten, as part of an effort on his parents' part to channel some of their son's energy. Conner immediately took to the sport and began competing in Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) meets after only a year. While still in his teens, he began to appear in meets on a regional, and then on the national, level.
By the time he was sixteen, in 1974, Conner became the United States Gymnastics Federation's All-Around champion. The following year, while still attending Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois, Conner tied with gymnast Tom Bench, then a twenty-year-old college student, for first place as the USA Men's All-Around champion; each athlete earned 105.85 points in the competition. Following his high school graduation in 1976, Conner went on to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, where he joined the gymnastics team. Even as his own talents continued to develop, Conner facilitated the University of Oklahoma's development into a national gymnastics powerhouse on the collegiate level.
In 1978 Conner helped lead his college team to the 1978 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) team championship, and won the award for All-Around best gymnast. In the following year, he tied for first in the floor exercise championship. In 1979 Conner was a member of the U.S. gymnastics team competing in the World Cup championships. While the team earned the bronze medal, Conner was able to achieve a gold medal for the parallel bars and a bronze medal for the vault. At the age of twenty-one, Conner was also the USA Men's All-Around champion in 1979, earning a total score of 114.25 points. Not only did he win a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for 1980, he was the highest scorer in the trials. Regrettably, due to international political issues, the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics, which were held in Moscow, then part of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, Conner continued to train and compete, winning the American Cup Championships in 1981 and 1982. In 1983, however, a torn biceps muscle in his right arm forced him to withdraw from the 1984 national championships. Because this competition contributed 40 percent of the point total in the overall competition for Olympic team membership, this withdrawal normally would have excluded Conner from eligibility for the 1984 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC), however, granted him a waiver and his subsequent success at the Olympic trials earned him a place on the team.
The 1984 Men's U.S. Olympics gymnastics team included Tim Daggert, Mitchell Gaylord, Jim Hartung, Scott Johnson, Jim Mikus, Peter Vidmar, and Conner. Competing in Los Angeles, California, the team managed to capture the gold medal, and Conner earned an individual gold for the parallel bars, and placed fifth—the highest ever placement by an American—in the floor exercises. The highlight of the competition for Conner was the parallel bars event, in which he earned two perfect scores of 10.0. Following this competition, Conner retired from the sport to become a television commentator for ABC, CBS, and ESPN, among others networks. He also began Perfect 10 Productions, Inc., a television production company dedicated to bringing more quality gymnastic meets to television.
Eventually, Conner's interest in gymnastics was such that his involvement as a commentator was not enough. He established the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, now located at 3206 Bart Conner Drive in Norman, Oklahoma. The facility provides education and training opportunities for gymnasts from around the world; the Bulgarian men's gymnastics team, among others, has trained there. Services and training are available for athletes ranging from ages two through adulthood. Conner's activities also include involvement in a campaign aimed at providing education about, and relief of, the debilitating condition of osteoarthritis. "B.E.A.T. Arthritis: Boost Education of Arthritis Treatment" is the result of Conner's joining with drug manufacturers Pharmacia and Pfizer to advocate the benefits of the drug Celebrex in alleviating this condition. Conner himself has battled the effects of the disease since he was twenty-two years old; the condition was a factor behind his retirement following the 1984 Olympics.
Over the years Conner had known Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, whom he first met on his eighteenth birthday, when they both competed in the America's Cup in New York City. Comaneci, famous for her own spectacular success as a gymnast, had returned to her native country after her performance in the 1976 Olympics. Eventually, despite a relatively privileged lifestyle, Comaneci and several others made a daring exit from Romania in 1989, only months before a revolution toppled the totalitarian regime then governing the country. After a brief stay in Austria, Comaneci was granted political asylum and immigrated to the United States. She began performing in shows with Conner and other gymnasts in 1990, and Conner and Comaneci soon began a personal relationship. The couple was married on 27 April 1996 at a ceremony in Bucharest, Romania, including seven priests and over 2,000 spectators at the Casin Orthodox monastery. Comaneci became an American citizen in June 2000, and the couple resides in Norman, Oklahoma.
Despite a relatively brief career in competition, Conner remains the only gymnast to have won gold medals at all levels of national and international competition ranging from his gold in the Pan American Games to the World Championship Gold, and, of course, his Olympic gold medals. His comprehensive talents, including his skill on the parallel bars, the vault, and the floor exercises, mark Conner as a consistently proficient all-around gymnast, a factor contributing to his success as a trainer and coach. His ongoing involvement as a trainer and coach ensure that his expertise will be passed on to future generations of gymnasts. He and his wife still occasionally appear in gymnastics shows and special events. He was inducted into the USOC Olympic Hall of Fame in 1991, the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1996, and both the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1997.
Conner is the author, with Paul Ziert, of Winning the Gold (1985). His story is also told well in Bob Schaller et al., The Olympic Dream and Spirit, vol. 3 (1999).
James J. Sullivan III