LONDON (Reuters) - Wearing seven-inch black stilettos, skinny jeans and a black figure-hugging T-shirt declaring “I‘m Gold”, Nadia Comaneci was still turning heads in London 36 years after producing the defining image of Olympic gymnastics.
Yet the Romanian’s fashion designer had missed a trick.
“(It says) I‘m gold... but it should have had ‘I‘m perfect’ on the back,” she said dissolving into laughter as she looked down on the bold gold lettering in the front of her T-shirt.
She was spot on.
“People don’t remember how many medals I won, all they remember is the history and the 1.00,” she added.
That 1.00 signified the first perfect 10 achieved at an Olympics -- in Montreal in 1976.
The then 14-year-old’s soaring performance on the asymmetric bars was so exceptionally good, and so unexpected, that a scoreboard had yet to be devised that could record such perfection.
So officials flashed up “1.00”.
“I didn’t understand what that meant,” Comaneci, 50, said on Wednesday during a promotional adidas event. “That’s all they could show. I was a little frustrated at the beginning because I thought I did better than one.”
She certainly did.
Her groundbreaking moment spurred hundreds of pixie Nadia clones to chase perfection.
However, a judging scandal at the 2004 Olympics robbed future generations from experiencing the giddy heights of perfection.
Officials ditched the system that was part and parcel of gymnastics and adopted an accumulative points format which no longer has a scoring ceiling.
According to Comaneci, gymnastics was still paying a heavy price for abandoning such an iconic scoring system and should consider bringing it back.
“I think gymnastics was associated with the 10. I thought that belonged to the sport, and somehow we gave it way,” she said.
“I think we lost a lot of the fans because they don’t understand what is 14 or what is 15 (under the new scoring system). What’s the highest score you can get? It’s a little bit confusing for the fans. I think that probably they’re going to find a way to bring back the 10 somehow.”
Comaneci is a firm believer of the saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and another change she is not a big fan of is the minimum age of gymnasts being raised from her heyday.
In a sport where many young girls end up drawing pensions from their sporting federations by the time they hit their late teens, female gymnasts competing at an Olympics now have to turn 16 that same year.
“I don’t think that one (or two) years make a huge difference,” Comaneci said.
”I think that a lot of the kids will miss their chance to compete because some of them will turn 16 (after) January 1 of next year, which means they will have to sit around for four more years.
“That will be very difficult to compete in your first Olympics at 19 or 20 years old. I think I like the way that it was, but I guess we’re just going to go with the rules.”
She dismissed the belief that pressure is unbearable for young competitors.
“I think it’s the other way around. People think that young kids have pressure, but no we don’t when we are young because you just go and do whatever you do in a gym,” she said.
“As the years go by, you become an adult and understand the responsibilities and what people are expecting from you. With me, that happened in 1980 in the Moscow Games.”
For the record, Comaneci won nine Olympic medals over two Games, five of them gold.
“I‘m just happy to be remembered because so many people have done unbelievable things in the Olympics,” said Comaneci, who is married to double Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Bart Conner Of the U.S.
”Every Olympic is defined by a story that happens and it’s not necessarily the one who wins all the time that people remember.
“I often hear ‘in Moscow, you didn’t do very well’. And I say ‘I got two gold medals and two silvers’, I don’t think it’s that bad.”
Editing by John O'Brien