WHERE WERE YOU WHEN: Nadia Comaneci got the first ever perfect 10

In her own words, the gymnast recalls her record-breaking Olympic achievement – and her life’s swift return to normality.

I got into gymnastics because, like many kids, I had too much energy. I loved the gym – it was just like a playground. For my parents, it meant I wasn’t doing crazy things in our house in Romania, where I grew up.

I was only 14 years old when I went to Montreal to compete in the Olympics. I remember walking around the Olympic Village, among all these high-profile athletes I’d only ever seen before on television. When it came to the day of the competition, all I was hoping for was not to make any mistakes. I remember thinking, ‘I just have to do the same routines I do in training’. The only difference is there were a lot more people watching.

Nadia Comaneci
Nadia on the balance beem: she won three gold medals at the montreal Olympics. Image: Leo Mason/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

I was the last one competing on the uneven bars and, when I finished, I was more interested in getting to my next event than checking the scoreboard. I don’t usually look because I roughly know how many points I’ll get on the basis of how I performed – then, I thought I’d get a 9.9. I only looked because I heard all the noise in the arena. There was a lot of confusion at first because the board was showing a 1.0 – which wasn’t very good for the performance! My teammate was trying to tell me that there was something wrong with it, that it was supposed to be a 10, but the music started and I had to go to my next event – the beam.

I knew it was a big deal, but I hadn’t realised that no one had ever got a perfect 10 before me. I didn’t know I’d made history [Nadia received six more perfect 10s and won three gold medals]. It only sank in when I got back to Romania and there were 10,000 people at the airport. After that, my life went on as normal – going to the gym, to school. The only thing that changed was that people would point at me in the street and say, ‘This is the girl with a 10!’

Now I live in Oklahoma with my husband Bart [Conner, a former US Olympic gymnast], where we run a gymnastics academy. I still go back to Romania five or six times a year – I opened a gym for children there called GymNadia.

Also that month…

Elton John and Kiki Dee
Waring Abbott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
  • Fire destroyed the famous pier head at the end of the world’s longest pier in Southend, Essex.
  • The UK heatwave peaked at 35.9C in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
  • David Steel was elected as the new leader of the Liberal Party.
  • Elton John and Kiki Dee reached number one in the charts with ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.’