Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police
Dr Stejarel Olaru, Alistair Ian Blyth
Nadia Comaneci is the Romanian child prodigy and global gymnastics star who ultimately fled her homeland and the brutal oppression of a communist regime. At the age of just 14, Nadia became the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10.0 at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games and went on to collect three gold medals in performances which influenced the sport for generations to come, cementing Nadia’s place as a sporting legend.
However, as the communist authorities in Romania sought an iron grip over its highest-profile athletes, Nadia and her trainers were subjected to surveillance from the Securitate, the Romanian secret police. Drawing on 25,000 secret police archive pages, countless secret service intelligence documents, and numerous wiretap recordings, this book tells the compelling story of Nadia’s life and career using unique insights from the communist dictatorship which monitored her.
Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police explores Nadia’s complex and combustible relationship with her sometimes abusive coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi, figures who would later become embroiled in the USA Gymnastics scandal. The book addresses Nadia’s mental struggles and 1978 suicide attempt, and her remarkable resurgence to gold at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. It explores the impact of Nadia’s subsequent withdrawal from international activity and reflects on burning questions surrounding the heart-stopping, border-hopping defection to the United States that she successfully undertook in November 1989. Was the defection organised by CIA agents? Was it arranged on the orders of President George Bush himself? Or was Nadia aided and abetted by some of the very Securitate officers who were meant to be watching the communist world’s most lauded sporting icon? What is revealed is a thrilling tale of endurance and escape, in which one of the world’s greatest gymnasts risked everything for freedom.
Stejarel Olaru illustrates the extent to which the Ceaucescu regime would go to secure Olympic success: it created a massive system of surveillance and an extensive network of informers and agents to control a group of young gymnasts and their ambitious, irascible coaching couple, Bela and Marta Karolyi. Olaru provides important insight into the machinations of Romania's Securitate and how national prestige triumphed over protecting teenage proteges from physical, emotional, and verbal abuse. * Victoria Harms, Assistant Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University, USA * A compelling examination of the public and private personae of Nadia that assesses the price of fame under a dictatorship. At the same time, Olaru's study exposes the intrusion of the state into the lives of citizens in Ceausescu's Romania. * Dennis Deletant, Emeritus Professor of Romanian Studies, The School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London * Starting from the extraordinary story of Nadia Comaneci, the book analyzes the unseen side of the sports performances of female artistic gymnastics and the relationship between sports and politics during the communist regime in Romania. Coaches, athletes, officials, and political decision-makers were caught in a network of complicated relationships that are revealed by the author through the secret police archive. * Simona Petracovschi, Professor at Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, West University of Timisoara, Romania *
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