It flies and twirls to the sublime.
On July 19, 1976 in Montreal, where the gymnastics events for the Games of the XXIst Olympiad were taking place, the scoreboard and the stammering computer were unable to measure the performance of a little Romanian as tall as three apples.
The table displays 1.00 when it is necessary to read 10, the note which indicates absolute perfection.
At 14, Nadia Comaneci became a legend.
She is not the first to achieve the perfect score: the Czech Vera Ceslavska had already achieved it once in 1967. But she is the first to achieve it during the Olympic Games, in mondovision.
“The girl who took to the bars just before me (
Soviet Olga Korbut
) had a 9.90.
As I put more amplitude in my movements, the judges could only give me a ten, ”the little fairy said later.
The most illustrious gymnast of the 20th century was crowned, in total, Olympic champion five times between 1976 (all-around, bars and beam) and 1980 in Moscow (floor and beam).
She wins but doesn't smile
Yet even on that glorious day of July 1976, she did not smile.
We now know why, thanks to a book which has just been released in Bucharest, “Nadia et la Securitate”
(“Nadia si Securitea”, not yet translated in France)
, written by the Romanian historian Stejarel Olaru.
Behind perfection, Nadia Comaneci lives hell in a sport subject to the most draconian rules and in a country ruled by a megalomaniac Communist tyrant: Nicolae Ceausescu.
His wife Elena is even more dangerous than him: she hates the gymnast who overshadows him.
For a quarter of a century, the couple ruled Romania with a terrifying tool: the Securitate, its political police. Even the jewel of the nation does not escape its clutches. “From 1975, Nadia came under his viewfinder,” explains the author. She was only 13 years old. Far from being privileged, she was a victim of the regime. Microphones were installed in his house, his phone was tapped, his correspondence intercepted. The Securitate recruited their classmates, minors, to make the surveillance even more effective. The number of informants around her has continued to increase: coaches, nurses, doctors, choreographer, pianist, Federation officials. Her boyfriends have been watched. The rumor, never confirmed, still lends him today an idyll with the son of the dictator to better spy on him.
Stejarel Olaru had access to declassified reports, made up of accusations and telephone conversations intercepted by the ex-political police "Basically, continues Stejarel Olaru, it was impossible for Nadia to do something that was not known at a time given by the Securitate. »Busy with her monastic life and her 6 hours of daily training, the teenager hardly cares about this stalking that she nevertheless guesses. “Nadia,” notes the historian, “admitted to me that she knew how to be watched. She suspected some people, but she never guessed the means implemented around her. "
Impossible to complain: protesting in the land of Ceausescu is strongly discouraged.
Apart from the competitions which glorify the regime, Comaneci is even banned from leaving Romania.
She therefore does not even know to what extent she is, in 1976, a planetary icon.
The regime is careful not to let him know.
Even the regime considered its trainer a "sadist"
However, this is not the worst in the life of Nadia Comaneci. In its closest entourage, the Securitate has a zealous accomplice: its trainer Bela Karolyi. “A Securitate agent called him a
,” says Stejarel Olaru. This is telling you! He was violent, generating fear in the souls of his gymnasts. Including that of Nadia Comaneci: years later, when she heard Karolyi's name again, she turned white with terror. “Karolyi was jealous,” notes the author of
Nadia et la Securitate
. Nadia was awarded the
Hero of Socialist Labor
, the highest honor in a communist country. He only received the
Class I Labor Order
When told about Nadia's successes, Karolyi would turn red with anger.
He considered that it was his merit, not that of the gymnast.
A document from the Romanian Securitate in Ceaucescu's time which was spying on Nadia Comaneci.
With his wife, Marta, also well placed in the gallery of ogres, Bela Karolyi beats, starves, humiliates her gymnasts and her main treasure: "They refused medical treatment even when the doctors insisted that they be treated, deplores Stejarel. Olaru. The doctor who protested was fired! The hunger of the gymnasts was a habit of the Karolyi. The girls hid their food to survive. Nadia Comaneci says she was insulted and slapped after gaining 300 grams of weight. She was regularly starved to the point of barely being able to stand up. Karolyi was amused by it. He ate greedily in front of the girls and made jokes while enjoying watching them suffer. He once personally put empty Pepsi bottles on their doorstep and then accused them of secretly drinking the better to punish them. "
The reports do not mention any sexual violence.
“When Nadia grew up and developed her personality, she knew how to rebel.
It drove crazy the trainer who considered his gymnasts as his prisoners ”, notes the historian.
"A terrible investigation" after his flight to the United States
In 1981, during a tour of the United States, the Karolyi couple fled and requested political asylum, abandoning their “prisoners” in the middle of the road.
In 1984, he led the American Mary Lou Retton to the Olympic title like Comaneci eight years earlier.
But in 2018, the two vampires are overtaken by the pedophilia scandal of Larry Nassar.
They are accused of having protected the actions of the gymnasium monster guilty of raping at least 265 women.
“Nadia,” says Stejarel Olaru, “left Romania on the night of November 27 to 28, 1989, illegally crossing the border on foot in Hungary, then in Austria at the risk of her life. On December 1, she arrived in the United States. The smuggler she thinks of trust and even thinks of marrying turns out to be a married mercenary who wants to make money and a business card on his prestige. “His escape shocked Ceausescu. A terrible investigation followed. Nadia's family, friends and acquaintances were arrested by the militia and investigated by Securitate agents. "
Fortunately, the persecutions do not last long.
On December 22, 1989, the revolution broke out in Bucharest.
The communist regime is collapsing.
The Ceausescu couple are executed after a mock trial and the investigation around Nadia Comaneci is stopped.
Stejarel Olaru's book on Nadia Comaneci.
Thirty-two years later, Nadia Comaneci still lives in the United States in Oklahoma.
She hardly ever brings up this period in her life, replying that she was just a child with one goal: to be successful in gymnastics.
At almost 60, she is a fulfilled businesswoman, married to Bart Conner, two-time Olympic gym champion in 1984, and mother of a boy.
She comes back to Romania 5 to 6 times a year.
And now she is smiling.