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AP WAS THERE: 1976 Montreal Olympics

EDITOR’S NOTE — With the Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press is looking back at the history of Summer Games. This story was transmitted from Montreal during the 1976 Olympics, focusing on the phenomenon that was 14-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci. The story is reprinted here as it ran in The Miami Herald on July 21, 1976 using the contemporary style terminology and including any published errors.

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By BOB GREEN and WILL GRIMSLEY, Associated Press

MONTREAL — The very imperfect Olympics — with all its troubles and strife, fears and police forces, threats and boycotts — suddenly has been graced by perfection.

It’s a tiny package, this little bit of perfection, standing only four feet 11 inches and weighing in at 88 pounds of pure grace and rhythm, topped by a ponytail and occasionally spiced by a saucy gesture.

It’s magnificent little Nadia Comaneci, a 14-year-old Romanian girl, who has captured the imagination of the world, one billion of whose people have watched on television her performances that are truly unbelievable.

SHE OPENED the Games with a perfect score of 10 -- the first ever achieved in the Olympics -- on the uneven parallel bars Sunday. And she followed that with a mind-boggling, second perfect score on the hazardous balance beam Monday.

And still she wasn’t done. There was more to come — more of that which is supposed to be unattainable by mortals.

She recorded still another perfect score Monday night in optional performances on the uneven parallel bars.

“I was very glad,” she said. “But it wasn’t the first time. I’ve done it 19 times.”

But no one had ever done it in the Olympics.

HER SPECTACULAR performances brought to their feet a wildly cheering crowd of 18,000, some of whom almost tearful in their adoration of this flying twisting little girl who usually wears a poker face devoid of expression.

But she can, and does on perfect occasions, flash that appealing beguiling smile of youth.

World records have fallen in profusion at these Olympics. But what are world records when perfection is offered?

The Russians won the team gold in the women’s gymnastics, but it was almost overlooked in the outpouring of praise and affection for Nadia, who now is the overwhelming favorite to take the individual all-around title tonight.

NADIA IS THE world’s Olympic darling, but she also is a tired little girl, embarrassed by all the attention she is getting — and homesick.

“I want to go home,” she replied when asked if she planned to follow her Montreal adventure with an exhibition trip around the world.

She also said that gymnastics, which were “fun — like a game” when she started at the age of seven, had now become very demanding.

“It is work,” she added.

She never idolized — or copied — Russia’s Olga Korbut, the darling of the 1972 Games. If she has an idol at all, it is Alain Delon, the French movie actor. She enjoys school, specializes in the French and English languages, but likes French best.

She dislikes to answer questions in English. Her favorite English words are “hamburger” and “OK.”

These were a few of the tidbits that emerged from Nadia’s first in-depth press conference since she arrived in Montreal.

SHE APPEARED timid when ushered into a room next to the Romanian headquarters at the Olympic Village and was immediately surrounded by newsmen and photographers, with shutters snapping and bulbs flashing.

Nadia sat straight in her chair, showing no nervousness and letting her brown eyes search those of every questioner. She rarely smiled. When she did, it was a tight-lipped smile.

She looked like a little girl who was desperately anxious to run away and play. She even admitted this to be true.

SOMEONE ASKED if she was affected by the noise of the crowd and what her reactions were.

“I think so much of what I must do, I do not hear the crowd,” she said. But of the ovations she has received afterward, “I feel fine — it makes me very happy.”