“We used to winning many medals, as we actually had a Medal Factory” – Nadia Comaneci @ The Medal Factory – episode 10

[The Medal Factory: episode 10 – (c)Digisport]


Nadia Comaneci has been a model for every generation of gymnasts, she has amazed the entire world with her talent and winning over their respect and appreciation. Today at The Medal Factory: the Montreal Goddess’ story.

Nadia: We were used to winning many medals, as if we actually had a Medal Factory.

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Simona Amanar: I got to do gymnastics also because my mother loved Nadia Comaneci. She thought that if Nadia had been a role model for her, I might also get to be up there, a new Nadia Comaneci. I’m glad I did not let her down, I worked really hard, achieved results and I got to be as well known as her.

Gheorghe Brasoveanu: She has been and still is an idol for the new generations. I followed her with the utmost attention in all national and international competitions and she proved she was a complete gymnast who achieved a lot for this school and her country.

Nadia was born in Onesti on the 12th of November, 1961. Her parents, stefania and Gheorghe Comaneci, decided to take her to gymnastics at Flacara when she was 6 years old. The distance between the sponge playing ground and elite gymnastics was not very big for Nadia; her talent, qualities and passion for gymnastics turned her into a “perfect” gymnast. When she was 10, she won 5 gold medals at the Romanian Cup for Kids. One year later she won her first National All Around title on her birthday. At 11 and a half, she did the first Tsukahara in women’s gymnastics Anca Grigoras is familiar with Nadia’s every step in gymnastics. They met in Onesti, they trained together and they made history for Romania.

Anca Grigoras: Nadia was a prodigy and she is still unique. Not just because she was the first back then, but because of her entire career. I know her since she first came to Onesti, I am 4 years and 4 days older than her. She was 7 or 8 back then. I also liked staying in the gym after training – I loved gymnastics a lot – and helped her with new elements. She was always willing to learn and I used to turn her around like a doll, she was little, and thin, we had fun. I have always said that Nadia was a “whipped” talent, but not in a bad way. Talented people, when they can´t find a “whip” like Bela was for Nadia, someone who can make the best of that talent (this is what I mean by whipped), they don´t always make the very best of what they have. They will probably achieve results, but not use their full capacity. For talented people, it´s easy to learn new things and do it fast. If you ask a talented kid to repeat an element 10 times, when the first 5 or 6 turn out perfect he starts questioning why he still has to do the rest. This is the key and this is what happened with Nadia, her talent was put to work. I think she also believes this. Another thing I must add: we always hear about the sacrifices a gymnast must make….I completely disagree with this. And this is not only my case, although I was really happy to be doing gymnastics. This is valid for all…those who don´t like it and believe this is only work, sooner or later end up retiring. You cannot force a child to do something he hates. Once you learn something new, you start liking it. Gymnasts enjoy competing most, especially those who do have results.

Andreea Raducan: What is your favorite memory from when you were doing gymnastics?
Luminita Milea: Training was the basis of everything. For us, the gym was our second home. But in our free time, thanks to our coaches, we had a lot of activities: we used to play football, we always visited the places we competed in…we were never taken to a place just to compete. They took us sightseeing even if we had to lose an hour of rest. This was due to our coaches, they were very open. They were tough as well, but I think this was good. I see it now from a different perspective; when I was I child I resented it, but nowadays I see that respect is missing, gymnastics is taken lightly. This is a long term sport, you can´t practice it for 2 years and say you are a gymnast. You can hope that you will become one if you continue working. I gave up this sport because I wanted to be with my family, I dedicated my childhood and teenage years to gymnastics, and while my kids were living theirs I was still with gymnastics. So I said I had to give it up, everyone tries to make the best of what they have in life. My favorite moments from gymnastics were those after training, when we stayed in the gym and played. We looked out the window to see if the teachers were coming. Sometimes, when there wasn’t any competition ahead, the coaches let us do whatever we wanted during training, be creative – this is what I most loved about training. It was a “productive” play, this is how we invented elements, out of mistakes. The dance part was also taken out of this. And there´s this secret: Nadia is a very good table tennis player. She used to play with Bela when we found a table somewhere. We also played cards and rummy, I used to play with Bela. These things seem unimportant, but for us Martha and Bela were like parents and the others were like family. When we went home, it was strange, everything had changed, my brother was bigger, the furniture was new. We lived a lot outside our family and created our own inside the gym. We were away a lot too, I ate in restaurants and slept in hotels more than in my own house.

Nadia stepped into elite gymnastics with the help of her coaches, Martha and Bela Karoly, who supported her in outdoing herself. At 13, Nadia won 3 golds and 1 silver medal at the European Championships in Norway. In this competition, she presented a completely new dismount on bars, which was named after her. At 14, she became gymnastics’ shinning star.

Nadia is the first gymnast in history to score a 10 after the perfect execution of her bars routine at the 1976 Olympics. The Montreal goddess went home with gold medals in the All-around competition, on beam and uneven bars, 1 silver and 1 bronze medal. Her achievements though did not stop here: she became the 1977 European All-around champion, 1978 world champion on beam and the 1979 All-around champion. This same year, in Dallas, Nadia and her team made history again, although she competed with an injury. At the 1980 Moscow Olympics Nadia won again 2 gold medals, on beam and floor and 2 silver medals, in the team final and in the all-around competition.

Nadia: Everyone asks me if I believe in the comeback of Romanian gymnastics. I don’t think we can talk about a comeback, we were the best in this sport for years until other countries became better than us. This was a wake up call for us. We were used to winning many medals, as if we actually had a Medal Factory. Do we really have one? We’ll see, even if we can’t have Iordache compete at Worlds because she is under age. This doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, to not be able to compete one year before competing in the Olympics but I believe in a “comeback” of Romanian gymnastics on the podium. In the last few months we have showed that we are taking this seriously.

Professor Gheorghe Brasoveanu remembers little Nadia shinning in her gymnastics leo. “There are many unforgetable moments for both of us”, says the professor.

Gheorghe Brasoveanu: She was a normal kid, like every other child her age. She paid attention, she was receptive both in class and in the gym. Her desire to be the best stood out from an early age. She started with Marcel Duncan, her first coach, then Munteanu and then Martha and Bela Karoly.

Andreea Raducan: Do you remember any funny stories involving Nadia?

Gheorghe Brasoveanu: She did the same things as everyone, they used to hide food in the dorms. We normally found out in the end. It´s the same thing you used to do as well.

Andreea Raducan: What was Nadia’s favorite subject?

Gheorghe Brasoveanu: She really liked geography and chemistry, her teachers told us she had the skills for this.

Nadia was a role model, a National hero, says the Romanian Gymnastics Federation President, Adrian Stoica: There was an evolution when Nadia came into gymnastics. She got to be a world prodigy, a hero of an entire generation. Nadia, Ilie Nastase, Hagi are Romanian symbols. Perhaps not many people know where Romania is on the map, but if you ask them about Nadia they immediately make the connection. It´s very difficult to talk about Nadia, but life has showed that this kind of heroes are not forgotten, they are symbols for many of the generations that follow them. For me, Nadia is still a prodigy, she is treated as such by the world of sport and beyond. I haven´t said by gymnastics, I said sport in general. She is internationally renowned and has always honored Romanian gymnastics and Romania.

Luminita Milea: The difficulty is higher today, it’s very risky and the elements are harder to learn if you start gymnastics late. If you start at 7, it will be very difficult to get to the top, you need to start earlier. I hope we can still find kids ready to do this, because the genetics today have changed: kids are bigger, stronger, many of them don´t practice any sport and are not willing to work hard. To be a gymnast you need talent, but you need lots of hard work and you know exactly what I am talking about. Back then, you were not forced to be in the gym, but there was this system that worked very well. It still works today, but the kids´objectives are different. I hope they are not coming to the gym for the financial benefits but rather to become another Nadia, Andreea, Simona….I hope.

Although she lives far away from Romania, in the Unites States, she happily comes back home every year. Onesti will remain a special place for the gymnast everybody loves.

Nadia: 35 years have passed since Montreal and I get really excited every time I come back. I remember my first steps in the gym, everyone who helped me, you know that you cannot do it alone, you need your family, your colleagues, the coaches, all this can help turn you into an Olympic Champion.

After ending her career as a gymnast, Nadia turned to coaching for a while and then got involved in many humanitarian projects.

Gheorghe Brasoveanu: When she retired, she became a trainer for the Junior team in Onesti. Back then I was the coordinator of the team. There are many beautiful memories from competitions and trainings.

The Nadia Comaneci Arena was remodeled and the gym has seen new equipment coming in. This is the same gym where Nadia traded sponges for gold medals.

Anca Grigoras: In Onesti there was the highschool that became the Nadia Comaneci College, the gym was built back then and we thought it was amazing. Compared to the small highschool gym we used to have, the new gym seemed never-ending, with new equipment, nice architecture, gymnastics pictures on the walls. What was really special were the painted glasses with gymnasts made by our design teacher. I’m sorry there are no photos of this…..

Gheorghe Brasoveanu: Fortunately, we can still offer the girls who train here good conditions: housing, food, training facilities. Nowadays parents can´t afford to pay a large sum of money, so the girls are coming here. The club has 2 girls in the Junior teams: Silvia Zarzu is working with the Deva Juniors and Andreea Puiu with the Onesti Juniors and we also have a couple of very good 9-10 years old. We feel lucky that the club´s manager, Ingrid Istrate, is supporting us a lot. And not only us, other sports as well…

Luminita Milea: Every time I see Nadia again, it seems like she never left, like she is still here. We keep in touch, she is one of my colleagues and a good friend. She never said no to anyone who needed help, she responds immediately. She is a true friend.


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