In 26 seconds, Nadia Comăneci altered the course of gymnastics history. Flying from the low bar to the high one and back again five different times, Comăneci showed off an artistry that had never been seen before. And when her routine was over – when she stuck the landing after a full flip and a half twist – the judges at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games were left no choice: they had to award her a perfect 10, a score no gymnast had ever earned before.
Was she perfect? She doesn't believe so, but her routine on the uneven bars was the closest thing to perfection anyone had ever seen, and so a score of the highest merit was in order.
Six more times Comăneci earned perfect scores in those Olympics, each one coming on the uneven bars and balance beam. Her haul: three gold medals (all-around, uneven bars, balance beam), a silver (team) and a bronze (floor).
An unknown Romanian going into the games, 14-year-old Comăneci left Montreal a household name known throughout the world simply as Nadia. Thirty-six years and eight Olympic Games later, her performance remains the standard by which all other female gymnasts are measured.