When Nadia Comaneci travels the world, she's often asked where she lives. When she responds, “Oklahoma,” it's usually followed by “Why?”
Comaneci tells her story of how she married two-time Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner. She explains the couple remains active mentoring gymnasts and promoting youth fitness awareness.
The Romanian gymnast best known for scoring the first perfect 10 in Olympic competition is proud Oklahoma has become her second home.
“I tell people, ‘Have you ever been to Oklahoma? There are a lot of nice people there that do wonderful things,'” Comaneci said. “I asked (Lee Allan Smith) how many years you have to live in Oklahoma to be a citizen of this state. He said, ‘Twenty.' I've been here 22 years, thank you very much.”
Comaneci was among seven members of the 2013 Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame class announced at a luncheon Tuesday at the Jim Thorpe Museum. Honorees will be inducted in August.
Other 2013 inductees include: college basketball coach Bill Self Jr.; Thunder team chairman Clay Bennett; Olympic wrestler Wayne Baughman; former OU quarterback Jimmy Harris; OSU two-sport All-American John Henry Ward; and 1930s NFL running back LeRoy “Ace” Gutowsky.
Comaneci and Baughman answered questions on stage at Tuesday's luncheon. Both competed in the 1976 Games in Montreal. Baughman said women's gymnastics was one of few events he attended.
And he nearly missed Comaneci's perfect 10 on the uneven bars.
“I always leave early so I won't get caught in the crowd,” Baughman said. “We stopped at the rail to watch her compete. We turned to go out and heard the crowd go crazy. That's when we found out she scored the first perfect 10.”
Comaneci's “10” actually showed 1.0 on the scoreboard because officials didn't anticipate anyone earning a perfect score.
“The scoreboard not being ready electronically was part of it,” Comaneci said. “There were a lot of other gymnasts that had 10s after that. Nellie Kim, an Olympic champion from the former Soviet Union, got a 10 right after me in '76 but nobody talks about that.”
Comaneci, 51, won three gold medals, including two at the 1980 Games in Moscow. Inevitably everyone always asks about the “perfect 10.”
“It's sort of like the first man on the moon,” Conner said. “People know (Neil) Armstrong but don't know other people who walked on the moon. That's her legacy. It separates her and makes her different.
“What's great is she uses that to do other things. She's involved in so many things, including the Laureus World Sports Academy, which does amazing things. They travel the world doing charitable programs, going globally, helping Special Olympics.”
Conner and Comaneci met at the 1976 Olympics. They reconnected in 1991. They were married in 1996. Conner said the “Why Oklahoma?” questions help promote various charities and business interests.
“When we're places in Dubai, Tokyo or Madrid people are shocked,” Conner said. “‘Where?' ‘Oklahoma?' They think some place exotic like Monte Carlo or Paris. One great thing about it she gets to continue the conversation and tell her story. If she lived in a predictable place, the conversation is over.”
Comaneci said she's proud she's the first Romanian in the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and she and Bart are the first husband-and-wife Hall of Fame couple.
Nowadays she doesn't get as many “Why Oklahoma?” questions.
“I used to tell people if they looked at a map it was right in the middle of the United States,” Comaneci said. “But now everybody knows Oklahoma because of the Thunder and their success. I don't know if I'll get ‘Why?' anymore.”