The 1970s was the golden era of gymnastics. It was a decade in which Women’s Artistic Gymnastics (WAG) gained unprecedented popularity and produced two of the most iconic stars in the history of the Olympics. Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci are names that even the most casual of WAG fans will recognize. Their names are synonymous with the sport, but they are also so famous that many know only their names, but not much about the actual gymnast themselves. This article is going to breakdown the differences between Nadia and Korbut.
To start with the basics, Olga Korbut competed for the Soviet Union whereas Nadia competed for Romania. Romania and the Soviet Union would emerge as the two most iconic WAG programs of the Cold War and were also fierce rivals. Korbut and Nadia would be on opposite spectrums of one of the most epic Olympic rivalries of all time.
Olga Korbut competed at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Nadia competed at the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. Their careers had only a brief overlap competing at the same time in just 1975 and 1976. The 1976 Olympics would be the only time Nadia and Korbut ever directly competed against each other. They never faced each other in the top non-Olympic WAG competitions and there was a reason for this. Nadia was far superior in skill level to Olga Korbut and the Soviets wanted to avoid having Korbut lose to Nadia until they absolutely had to at the 1976 Olympics.
Until the arrival of Simone Biles, Nadia was the standard for gymnastics success. She was widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time. Olga Korbut was a great gymnast, but she never achieved the level of athletic success or popularity as Nadia. Olga Korbut is famous for being the very first WAG superstar. Nadia is famous for being the most successful and iconic WAG superstar during the golden age of gymnastics.
To put their timelines and their relationship to the Perfect 10s in its simplest of terms, Nadia is best known for being first gymnast to score a Perfect 10 at the Olympics. Olga Korbut never scored a Perfect 10 in her career. Olga Korbut is best known for the 1972 Olympics, Nadia is best known for the 1976 Olympics.
Both gymnasts achieved incredible levels of fame, but they were famous in very different ways. Olga Korbut loved interacting with fans, crowds, and the media. Korbut gave people a direct insight into her life and as a result, people wanted to know even more about her. In contrast Nadia was kept more guarded by the Romanians. Nadia did her fair share of interviews with the media. But Nadia’s fame was more about keeping the public in the dark regarding what her life was like outside of gymnastics. Nadia was built up to be mysterious and an absence of answers. And that made fans want to know even more about her.
The polar opposite ways in which Nadia and Korbut dealt with the media, but still achieving widespread fame is reflective of why the 1970s was the golden age of gymnastics. The media spotlight was at its most intense and people wanted WAG superstars and they were willing to find any reason to fall in love with Nadia and Olga. It didn’t matter that in a competition Korbut was more likely to focus on waving to the crowd whereas Nadia seemed more focused on taking instructions from her coach. It didn’t matter that Korbut usually had a smile on her face whereas Nadia typically looked like her main concern was to avoid getting yelled at by her coach.
Korbut and Nadia weren’t just opposites in the way they handled media attention and carried themselves. They also had very different styles of gymnastics. Olga Korbut was known as an innovator and is famous for pioneering new moves such as the Korbut Flip and Korbut Dismount on bars. She also introduced the backflip on beam. Nadia has a number of original moves herself, but her reputation as an innovator played a secondary role to her reputation as a technician. Whereas Korbut beat her opponents by coming out with daring new moves that had never been seen before, Nadia took existing moves and did them better than anyone else.
Many of these differences come off as basic for fans who revel in the finer details of WAG history. Korbut and Nadia are the two gymnasts who were the most responsible for WAG what it is today. Their names have stood the test of time and are still remembered today whereas so many others have fallen into obscurity. As a result they are often talked about as if they were two sides of the same coin. In reality, they were anything but.