1974 Romania WAG

1974: Comăneci and Ungureanu Win the Junior Masters Championships

Batman and Robin.
Simon and Garfunkel.
Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
Abbott and Costello.
Bert and Ernie.
Nadia and Teodora.

Nadia Comăneci and Teodora Ungureanu form one of the most iconic duos in gymnastics history — partly because of video footage like this:

And photos like this one:

(Original Caption) Romania’s brilliant young gymnast Nadia Comaneci, (front), and her teammate Theodora Ungureanu, who is almost as good as Nadia, enjoy a break from training at the boarding school they and other members of their Olympic team attend. The curtain was parted and you could get a glimpse of their life by watching the CBS-TV special, Nadia–From Romania With Love, on November 23, 1976. Flip Wilson was the host.

Did you know that, before their Olympic debut, the dynamic duo tied for the all-around title at the 1974 Romanian Junior Masters Championships? What follows are the results, as well as the newspaper coverage of the competition.

In the appendix, you can find a few articles on Comăneci and Ungureanu from the newspapers.

1973 Interviews & Profiles Romania WAG

1973: An Early Interview with Béla Károlyi

In 1973, one of the first profiles of the Károlyis was printed. It wasn’t published in the main sports newspaper in Romania, Sportul. Rather, it was published in A Hét, a Hungarian-language newspaper out of Bucharest. (Both Károlyis are ethnic Hungarians.)

The profile in A Hét calls the couple “heroes” and includes the basic contours of the Károlyis’ backstory, which differ from those found in a profile of Comăneci published weeks earlier in Sportul. In that profile, Károlyi suggests that he discovered Comăneci on a playground, a myth that has been repeated for decades. But here, in this Hungarian-language interview, the writer makes it clear that the Károlyis inherited already established groups of gymnasts when they moved to Oneşti. Though, Comăneci’s first coach, Marcel Duncan, is never mentioned by name.

The profile of Károlyi in A Hét was printed after Comăneci’s early success in 1973 — after she had won all the golds at the 1973 Romanian International as well as the all-around during a dual meet with the Soviets. And according to Károlyi, the best was yet to come. In fact, he insinuated that Comăneci might become the first woman to compete a triple twist. (Japan’s Kenmotsu had attempted the skill at the 1970 World Championships and 1972 Olympics.)

A short sidenote: In this article, we find out an interesting tidbit: Márta Károlyi’s first name in Hungarian is reportedly Gyöngyi. (Erőss is her maiden name.) It was not uncommon for Hungarians to use alternate given names. For example, Valerie Nagy, a long-time member of the Women’s Technical Committee, did not use her Hungarian given name (Jenőné) outside of Hungary.

1972 1973 Interviews & Profiles Romania WAG

1972/3: Early Interviews with Nadia Comăneci

Long before the 1976 Olympics, the Romanian press — in both Romanian and Hungarian — started to print interviews with and profiles of Nadia Comăneci. 

Below, you’ll find translations of a small collection of interviews and profiles from 1972 and 1973. Each one is interesting in its own right. For example, you can find an early comparison with Olga Korbut — something that would continue to crop up in the press for years after. In that same article, the author questions if too much was expected of the prodigy at too young of an age — an ongoing question in the sport of gymnastics. There’s even an article titled, “We should not expect everything only from Nadia Comăneci.”

All in all, the articles portray Comăneci as a wunderkind, whose skill is routinely described in supernatural, if not religious, terms, with the word “miracle” being routinely employed to describe her accomplishments.

Sportul, June 15, 1972

As you’ll see in the first profile printed about Comăneci, the Romanian press erased her first coach, Marcel Duncan, from Comăneci’s story right from the start.
1972 1973 MAG Romania USSR WAG

1972/3: Comăneci Wins the All-Around in Dual Meets with the USSR

In 1972 and 1973, the Romania juniors competed against the Soviet juniors in dual meets. In both years, Comăneci won the all-around.

In other words, long before the Montreal Olympics, the Soviets knew they would be up against stiff competition. In fact, Larisa Latynina, the head coach of the Soviet team, would refer to Comăneci as the “Romanian Korbut” after the 1973 Friendship Cup.

Here are the Romanian news reports on the dual meets. Plus, there’s an early profile of Comăneci included at the end.

Reminder: In 1972, the Soviet newspapers didn’t know how to spell Comăneci’s surname.

Sportul, April 22, 1973
1972 China MAG Romania WAG

1972: China Travels to Romania for a Dual Meet

In June of 1971, Nicolae Ceauşescu, the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, paid a visit to China and North Korea. 

One year later, Chinese gymnasts went to Romania for a competition.

Note: We’ll see a similar timeline between the U.S. and China with Nixon going to China in 1972 and Chinese gymnasts traveling to the United States in 1973.

While the Chinese men’s team defeated the Romanian team, the Chinese women were not as successful. After the competition, the teams held joint training sessions, during which the Chinese gymnasts learned the compulsory routines. Apparently, Cai Huanzong’s routines looked even better than the figures used to depict the compulsory routines.

Note: After Ceauşescu’s visit to China, he published the “July Theses,” which ended a period of ideological diversity and cultural liberalization in Romania. A list of banned books, for example, was reinstated. Academics debate the extent to which Chinese political thought influenced Ceauşescu.

Note #2: China withdrew from the FIG in 1964, so this meet was important because it showed that China was dipping its toes back into the waters of international competition after a long absence.

Source: Sportul, July 19, 1972
1972 Olympics Romania

1972: Romania’s Takeaways from the Olympics in Munich

Romania skipped the gymnastics competition at the 1968 Olympics in part because of its disappointing showing at the 1964 Olympics. Four years later, in 1972, the Romanian women finished sixth, just as they had at the 1964 Olympics. The Romanian men finished 7th — a major improvement over their 12th-place finish in Tokyo.

After the Olympic Games in Munich, the Romanian press tried to answer the questions:

  • What should we make of the gymnasts’ performance in 1972?
  • Could our gymnasts have been achieved?
  • What needs to be done going forward?

What follows is a translation of a column from Sportul, published in the September 29, 1972 edition of the newspaper. The article looks at everything from body weight to the lack of good apparatus in the country.

Elena Ceampelea on the balance beam, June 10, 1972, The Netherlands
1970 Romania World Championships

1970: Reflections on Romanian Gymnastics after Worlds in Ljubljana

At the 1970 World Championships, the Romanian women’s team took 5th place while the men’s team took 8th. Afterward, Constantin Macovei, a reporter for the Romanian sports periodical Sportul, wrote a series of reflections. He criticized the unfair judging in Ljubljana and praised the women’s program for being on track, particularly Ceampelea and Ioan. 

As for the men’s program, Macovei provided several concrete suggestions, including scheduling matches that will push the gymnasts rather than give them a guaranteed victory. In addition, he looked forward to the performances of upcoming gymnasts like Adrian Stoica, who would one day become the President of the Men’s Technical Committee at the FIG.

Elena Ceampelea, Source: Wikimedia
1969 European Championships Romania WAG

1969: Romania’s “Re-Launch” after Skipping the Mexico City Olympics

In 1968, Romania didn’t send any gymnasts to the Olympic Games ostensibly out of fear of poor performance. In a column for the Romanian newspaper Sportul, Elena Leușteanu, a three-time Olympic bronze medalist in gymnastics, explained that the decision was both a “discreet gesture” and a “diplomatic tactic.”

Our non-participation in gymnastics was actually a discreet gesture and a diplomatic tactic. Discreet gesture — because, by not participating, we were acknowledging, in a way, that the value of our opponents is higher than ours and would have not suited us to make it official, especially in a competition in which a kind of opinion is developed that can be harmful for us for at least two years, if not four years, before the next Olympic competition. Diplomatic tactic — because although we have genuine assets, recognized even at the “Olympic Hope Competition,” their maturation is planned for the next 3-4 years. I think this is the reason that would suit us best and explain our intention to return to the arena of major competitions only when we have a team that can and knows how to keep and conquer new positions aimed at raising the prestige of our gymnastics.

Sportul, March 7, 1969

Neprezentarea noastră la gimnastică a fost de fapt un gest discret și o tactică diplomatică. Gest discret — pentru că prin neparticipare recunoșteam, într-un fel, că valoarea adversarilor este mai bună decît a noastră și acest lucru nu ne-ar fi convenit să-l oficializăm mai ales într-o competiție în care se formează un fel de opinie care ne poate fi dăunătoare cel puțin doi ani înainte, dacă nu patru ani, pînă la viitoarea întrecere olimpică, tactică diplomatică , pentru că deși avem valori autentice, recunoscute chiar la „Concursul speranțelor olimpice“, maturizarea lor este planificată în următorii 3—4 ani. Acesta cred că este motivul care ne-ar prinde cel mai bine și explica de fapt intenția de a reveni în arena marilor concursuri numai atunci cînd vom avea o echipă care să poată și să știe a păstra și cuceri noi poziții menite să ridice prestigiul gimnasticii noastre.

At the 1969 European Championships, the Romanian gymnasts did, in fact, conquer “new positions” — at least compared to recent history. Rodica Apăteanu finished eighth, and Felicia Dornea, the youngest competitor in the competition, finished twelfth. Their finishes were a marked improvement over the 1967 Europeans, where the top Romanian gymnast — Elena Ceampelea — finished seventeenth.

The Romanian press struck an optimistic note after the 1969 Women’s European Championships, calling the gymnasts’ performances a “good omen” for the future. At the same time, there was a bit of blunt criticism, as we will see in the column below.

So what? Why does this matter? It’s important to take the temperature in 1969 so that we can track the rise of Romanian women’s gymnastics from no participation in 1968 to team silver in 1976.

Rodica Apăteanu, 1969