Nadia Comăneci began gymnastics in kindergarten with a local team called Flacăra (“The Flame”)….with coaches Duncan and Munteanu….when at age 6, she was chosen to attend Béla Károlyi’s experimental gymnastics school after Károlyi spotted a friend and her turning cartwheels in a schoolyard….as Károlyi was looking for gymnasts he could train from a young age….and saw the two girls during recess….so, when recess ended, the girls ran inside…..and Károlyi went around the classrooms trying to find them and eventually spotted Comăneci…..whereas the other girl, Viorica Dumitru, went on to be one of Romania’s top ballerinas. Comăneci was training with Károlyi by the time she was seven years old in 1968….and Nadia was one of the first students at the gymnastics school established in Onești by Béla and his wife, Márta….whereby unlike many of the other students at the Károlyi school, Comăneci was able to commute from home for many years because she lived in the same town as the school.
In 1970, she began competing as a member of her hometown team and became the youngest gymnast ever to win the Romanian Nationals. In 1971, she participated in her first international competition…. which was a dual junior meet between Romania and Yugoslavia….where she won her first all-around title and contributing to the team gold. For the next few years, she competed as a junior in numerous national contests in Romania and dual meets with countries such as Hungary, Italy, and Poland. In 1973 at the age of 11, she won the all-around gold, as well as the vault and uneven bars titles at the Junior Friendship Tournament (Druzhba)….which was an important international meet for junior gymnasts
Comăneci’s first major international success came at the age of 13….when she nearly swept the 1975 European Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Skien, Norway….while winning the all-around and gold medals on every event but the floor exercise, in which she placed second. She continued to enjoy success that year by winning the all-around at the “Champions All” competition and placing first in the all-around, vault, beam, and bars at the Romanian National Championships. In the pre-Olympic test event in Montreal….where Comăneci won the all-around and the balance beam golds….as well as winning silver in the vault, floor, and bars behind accomplished Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim….who was one of her greatest rivals over the next five years.