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Few athletes have made quite as deep and lasting an impact on the Olympic Games as the waif-like 14-year-old Romanian Nadia Comaneci.
Just as the Soviet Union’s Olga Korbut stole the world’s hearts at the 1972 Games in Munich, in Montreal it was Comaneci.
She returned to Romania with five medals, three of them gold, and after becoming the first ever female gymnast to be awarded a perfect 10 she went on to do it another six times.
Comaneci’s status as a prodigy was evident from the word go, as she contested her first national championships at the age of just 8, finishing 13th.
Fast forward five years and she swept all the major event gold medals at the European Championships in Norway and went into the Montreal Games as the joint favourite with Soviet gymnasts Korbut and Lyudmila Turischeva.
The Games in Montreal were just two days old when Comaneci stamped her authority. Competing in the team event she performed on the uneven bars with such jaw-dropping precision, grace and, as it turned out, perfection that the crowd was left spellbound.
Even the scoreboard seemed slightly flummoxed by events, registering her score as 1.00 because there were insufficient characters to give her the correct 10.00.The audience went wild and she twice returned to the centre of the arena to acknowledge the applause.
The Romanians would finish second in the team event behind the Soviet Union, for whom Nelli Kim surprised as the outstanding performer. It was Comaneci, though, who recorded the best cumulative scores of the competition.
In the individual all-around event she carded perfect 10s in the uneven bars and the balance beam, the latter accompanied by gasps of awe from the Canadian crowd.
She won the gold by six tenths from Kim, and the 14 year-old’s record for the youngest ever all-around winner seems unlikely to be beaten following changes to the qualification rules.
Comaneci added further golds in the beam and uneven bars and also a bronze in the floor exercises.
Her performance in Montreal puts her right up there with the greatest of all Olympians and perhaps most striking, her feats were achieved in a manner that suggested she was impervious to the pressure of the occasion and the fact that tens of millions of people were watching transfixed at home.