Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci redefined perfection on this day in history, July 18, 1976, when she scored the first-ever perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics history.
Competing on the uneven bars apparatus during the compulsory portion of the team event of the women’s artistic gymnastics competition, Comaneci made history in less than 30 seconds.
“Chris, this could be the highlight of the compulsory event. She is one of the technically strongest, best gymnasts that I’ve ever seen,” said former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby to fellow commentator Chris Schenkel during the American television broadcast of the event.
At the time, the team competition consisted of a “compulsory” and “optional” round for each apparatus; the compulsory round consisted of set choreography that was performed by each gymnast. The compulsory round was done away with starting with the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Throughout Comaneci’s routine, Rigby can be heard praising the 14-year-old gymnast’s skill.
“Gorgeous routine, beautiful, and the crowd loves it,” exclaimed Rigby following Comaeci’s dismount.
The judges gave Comaneci’s routine a 10, the first-ever awarded in Olympic competition.
The perfect 10 was so unprecedented that even the electronic scoreboard was not able to properly display the score.
Comaneci’s 10 was displayed as a 1.00 — as there were only three display digits.
Romania would go on to win the silver medal in the team event, placing behind the gymnastics powerhouse Soviet Union. (The Soviet Union won the women’s artistic gymnastics team event in each of the nine Olympic Games they participated in, notes the Olympics website.)
Comaneci would go on to repeat perfection six more times at the 1976 games, scoring perfect 10s on the balance beam in the team optional event, all-around final, and individual apparatus final, and on the uneven bars in the team optional event, the all-around final, and individual apparatus final.
Additionally, Comaneci would take home a bronze medal in the floor exercise.
She placed fourth in the vault individual apparatus final, according to her profile on the Olympics website.
Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim also scored a perfect 10 in the 1976 games: Kim’s vault in the all-around final and floor routine in the individual apparatus final were both deemed perfect by the judges in Montreal.
Like Comaneci, Kim also won three gold medals in Montreal.
She won the team, floor exercise, and was second to Comaneci in the individual all-around.
Comaneci would appear in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, winning an additional two gold medals on the balance beam and floor exercise.
She tied for second in the individual all-around final with East German gymnast Maxi Gnauck, and Romania won silver in the team competition.
Following the 1980 Olympics, Comaneci retired from competitive gymnastics.
She defected to the United States in 1989, said the Olympics website, eight years after her coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi did so while on tour with her in the United States.
She married American gymnast Bart Conner in 1996, states the website for the couple.
The two operate the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Oklahoma.
None of Comaneci’s achievements in the 1976 Olympics could be replicated today.
In addition to the elimination of the compulsory competition, Comaneci — at age 14 — would have been too young to compete in the Olympics had they occurred in the 21st century.
In 1997, the International Gymnastics Federation ruled that gymnasts must be turning 16 in the year of competition in order to compete in the Olympics, says the group’s website.
Further, the gymnastics scoring system was completely overhauled after the 2004 Olympic Games, which saw numerous controversies related to scoring.
Now, elite gymnasts are given a specific difficulty score for each routine, and are scored on their execution of the routine out of 10.
These two numbers are then combined for the final score.
The 10-point system is still used in other levels of gymnastics competition, including the NCAA and Junior Olympics.