At age 14, Comaneci exploded into fame with a three-gold medal performance at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, ushering in an era of gymnastics popularity and Romanian dominance. She eventually ended competition in 1981, after an overall career that included nine Olympic medals (five gold), four World medals (two gold), and 12 European Championships medals (nine gold). Along the way, she became the first gymnast to score a perfect "10" score in Olympic competition, which vaulted her to the heights of popularity.
But her stark and restricted life in communist Romania was difficult, although she had a relatively privileged life due to her athletic success and her position as a coach. On the night of November 28th, she, along with six other gymnasts, crossed the border into Hungary (which had started democratic reforms earlier that year) and requested asylum. Eventually, she made her way to the States, and began a new life as a model, spokeswoman, and gymnastics commentator.
Amongst her many post-defection honors are: a 2004 Olympic Order medal (her 2nd), Honorary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, member of International Gymnastics Federation, a 2000 honor by Laureus of an 'Athlete of the Century', and Honorary Counsel General to the U.S. for Romania, and is so beloved by her native country that her 1996 wedding to American Bart Connor was held - and broadcast live - in Bucharest.