LAST_UPDATETue, 19 Jun 2018 10am

Nadia Elena Comaneci: The Unassuming Olympian

Pic : fz.comPic : fz.comLIKE many others, the highlight of every Olympics was always about gymnastics for this writer.

Gymnasts displayed levels of elegance and gracefulness that I knew I would never muster in my lifetime, but I enjoyed watching them. They were graceful, beautiful and classy all at once. But none, so far, has matched the elegance, grace beauty and class of Nadia Elena Comaneci.

Comaneci was the first gymnast in the modern Olympic gymnastics history to have achieved a perfect score (10) in the uneven bars routine during the 1976 Olympics.

In that same event, she earned an additional six perfect scores and successively won the all-round, beam and bar titles. Romanian Comaneci made a mark on Olympic history and did not even know it.

"I was so young. I didn't understand the magnitude of what I had achieved or that I had made gymnastic history.

"I competed because I loved gymnastics. All I wanted to do was gymnastics. I didn't compete because I wanted to make history," Comaneci told fz.com in an exclusive five minute meet.

Comaneci was on Malaysian shores for the Laureus World Sports Awards that took place on March 26, at the Istana Budaya. She was among the world sports-stars-and-legends including the likes of Eric Cantona, Sir Bobby Charlton and Kapil Dev and Malaysia’s very own Datuk Nicol David and Datuk Lee Chong Wei.

In the interview, Comaneci said that it was only years later that she realised what an impact she had made when mothers approached her and related the exact moment when she scored the historic ten.

Of course for the living legend herself, the moment is forever etched in her memory, as it should be.

"Because of gymnastics, I got to do things that I couldn't do at home," she said with a chuckle.

But on a more serious note, she said the energy that children have between the ages of eight to 10 should be channelled into something more positive and gymnastics was that outlet for her.

Comaneci added that if it had not been gymnastics, it would be some other sporting event, but because there were so few sporting opportunities for women at that time, gymnastics fit her perfectly.

The incredibly humble ex-gymnast had no big dreams or expectations when she first explored the sport but her achievements surpass the three Olympic gold medals to her name.

The gift was something that Comaneci simply developed in time. She was passionate about the sport hence; she gave her heart and her soul to be the best gymnast she could. Everything she achieved after was an added bonus and blessing.

Talking about the difference in the difficulty of routines from 1976 until 2012, she mentioned that over the last 40 years, she expects change because "every generation is with their time."

The routines that she put forward in the 70s were considered to be difficult at that time because the equipment was different than it is now. Similarly, gymnasts of today would have different challenges than she did when she was competing.

However, according to her, there is a 'Comeneci move' on the uneven bar event that, by far, only two gymnasts have attempted. She did not elaborate if they were successful or not, but this writer believes that they weren't.

Earlier in the day, Nadia paid a visit to our local gymnastics team and spent some quality time encouraging them by answering questions about overcoming fear and stage fright just before stepping out to do a routine.

Being the obliging and passionate person that she is, she shared her experience as an Olympian and even gave them useful tips on how to be a better gymnast.