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Nadia Comaneci: "In my dreams I made more mistakes than in my day time workout”

16 Dec 2008   •   00:00
Nadia Comaneci: "In my dreams I made more mistakes than in my day time workout”

"Many times I dreamt about the routines that I was practicing. And many times I dreamt that I did mistakes, but when I was awake, this did not happen. For instance, when dreaming about my routine on the beam I always found myself stepping into the air, as if the beam suddenly became shorter,” recalls Nadia Comaneci in an interview to Marius Tuca, to be published starting today.

"Say It As It Is” Series of Interviews conducted by Marius Tuca

  • Marius Tuca: You know, it is pretty hard to get an interview with Nadia Comaneci…
Nadia Comaneci: For whom it is hard? For you to get it, or for someone else?

  • Generally speaking, for anyone attempting to interview you.
That's true: I seldom agree to being interviewed.

  • I noticed you are very selective.
I am trying to be.

  • You really are. But do you know why it is so hard for people to get an interview with Nadia Comaneci?

  • Firstly, Nadia Comaneci is a very complex personality, Secondly, Nadia Comaneci is a legend, beyond the real -flesh-and-blood person, and you are well aware of that,. Thirdly, Nadia Comanenci is very difficult to contact. I recon I worked a lot to prepare for this interview.
It is good at least one of us got prepared.

  • What is being famous to you?
I was not aware how famous I was in the world for a long time. In fact, I think I found out only after the competition in Montreal, when travelling in the United States to perform in gymnastics shows at Madison Square Garden. I could not understand at the time why people were so keen to touch me or my pampons. At that time our schedule was  so tight, with short visits abroad, when most of our time was spent in rehearsals and training. But we were so young that I do not believe we would have been genuinely interested in sight-seeing or meeting other people; we were pretty exhausted by our training anyway.

  • That was back then. But how was it after finding out about your international fame?
I am very surprised that 32 years on people still remember that moment. All kinds of people, including some I was watching in the news and admiring at one point or another. I found out this when actually meeting them, for  instance the members of the Rolling Stones band. They knew exactly where they were and with whom when watching the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games and I scoring the first ten in gymnastics history. I did not expect that.

  • There are many such public figures who told you, 20 or 30 years after that momentus time, when meeting you, that they had fallen in love with you.
That's true. I received many letters, right after the Olympics, with love declarations. But I was still a child. You know how one reacts at that age ...

  • OK, but in fact, you yourself raised the question and toyed with the answer. The answer is that you revolutionzed the world of gymnastics, being the only person, so far, to make the cover of three magazines at the same time: Time, Sports Illustrated and Newsweek.
Yeah, it is pretty hard to get a politician make the Sports Illustrated cover.
  • Oh, Obama may stand a chance at that. This is easy for me to see it, as a journalist ...
I did not realize at the time the importance of the fact. In Romania, at the time, we had media control and I did not understand the true nature of the impact that I had had abroad.

  • So, you were not aware of the impact you had in the United States?
No, I found out about only much later

  • In Ioan Chirila's book "Nadia”, Ion Tiriac tells that he was in the US at the time and that television ratings for your performance were 19, on a scale measuring them from 1 to 20, and standing almost on a pair with the live broadcast of the first man landing on the Moon. So, you knew none of these facts back then, but you know them now. What is your take now?
Sometimes I have to pinch myself to tell if it is still true. Nowadays it is so hard to do something that will create a real impact, so that people will remember that moment, or have their lives changed by it. I recall that I had the opportunity to meet Celine Dion in Canada, at the end of one of her concerts. She was early in her career and singing only in French. She told me that after seeing my performance in the Montreal Olympics she told herself that she wanted to do something with her life that will make her as big a success as I was then.

  • So, are you aware of chaning people lives? Did you become aware over time?
Yeah. And it is very hard to really accomplish anything. We all tend to forget, things that happened last year for instance. If you stop one in the street and ask who won the gymnsatics olympics four years ago I think that one will paus and think hard to recall.

  • I read you book, "Nadia Comaneci – Letters To A Young Gymnast”. I read it several times, and I want to say that I could not recall any of your team mates, with the exception of Teodora Ungureanu. What I mean to say is that your personal success scorched around and obliterated the success of anyone else. I would like to continue our talk based on things you write in this book. You write at one point: "This is what life is, isn't it? You aim a target and try to reach it by being better by the day, till you reach that target. It requires considerabile effort, but if you are in love with what you do, the whole process is sheer joy. I was not born a champion, I did not dream in those early days about becoming one. My thoughts were at the small scale competitions Bela ştrans. note: Bela Karoly, Nadia Comaneci's trainerţ was organizing in our gym, at the small rewards he gave me when I did it right. I dreamt about learning new routines, I wanted to run, to swirl, to do double vaults and nothing to keep me on the ground, for I was meant to fly.” I believe people should know why you embarked on the hard work, and that that was not the crave for fame.
Indeed, I did not do it for getting a footnote in the history of gymnsatics. I just loved freedom of movement, and after bumping into furniture too many times my parents decided that I had to channel that extra energy of mine. Anyway, in my time, being the best in your field was not equal to being famous. That came up later.

Some people believe to this day that you were in for the fame. But sports celebrities turned out only later on, in the '80s.
Maybe in the United States being a good sportsman or woman equaled to being famous, but not so in Romania.

  • You also wrote in your book: "Victory to me never meant standing on a podium with medals around my neck. I usually looked back in the audience, as they aplauded, I looked at Bela and Marta, who were smiling. I kissed the other competitors, but the drums inside me beat to a different rythm. High up on that stand, even at that young age, I was rewinding in my head the film of the routine, trying to discover the errors, the opportunities to make the routine better.” This I find incredibile: as you stood there, carrying your medals, you were still obsessed with bettering your routine, to identify your mistakes ...
That was true, but not only for that moment alone. I dreamt many times the routines that I made, and many times in my dreams I made mistakes, but did not repeat them in reality. Which is the best way to go!

  • Did you do more mistakes in your dreams than in reality!

  • And how was it, this dreaming of yours?
For instance, when dreaming about my routine on the beam I always found myself stepping into the air, as if the beam suddenly became shorter.

  • This is a nightmare, not a dream. What other dreams did you have?
In most of my dreams I succeeded to fly on my own. I ran, and ran, and ran, till at one point I became airborne. Which is a good thing, as I got it from people knowledgeable in reading the meaning of dreams.

  • At the end of the day, your flight came true, with everything you accomplished in gymnastics. What other dreams do you have from those early days? Were they all related to gymnastics?
I do not recall others.