As a sport, the women's gymnastics competition at the 1980 Olympics was marred by the usual charges of biased judging and controversy over whether the right people won. As theater, however, it was boffo: The only pity is that US TV audiences, so captivated by Olga Korbut in 1972 and Nadia Comaneci in 1976, got only brief glimpses of this even more spectacular sequel.
"Nadia II," it might have been billed, for the Romanian star who dazzled the crowds as a 14-year-old marvel in Montreal was the center of attention at the beginning. She had a different role this time as the reigning queen of her sport , but she was the same cool, haughty, incredibly poised performer as she milked the crowd every time she stepped onto the mat.
Also back was Nelli Kim, the vivacious Soviet Eurasian who had dueled Comaneci tooth and nail four years ago and actually matched her three gold medals, although one of Kim's came via the team championship.
But 1980 was to be more than the "Nadia and Nelli Show," as a group of aspiring young rivals led by 15-year-old Maxi Gnauck of East Germany and Kim's teammates Yelena Davydova and Natalya Shaposhnikova made quickly apparent. There was even a candidate for "best actor" in the person of Romanian coach Bela Karolyi, who earned automatic life membership in the Illie Nastase school of histrionics with his raging, seething, head-in-hands performance after Nadia lost the all-around gold medal to Davydova via some close, complicated, and very controversial scoring.
"It was planned tha way," Karolyi charged later, calling it "an arrangement" to ensure a Soviet gold medal. "It was a big injustice," he added. "Anyone who saw tonight will know that Nadia was the winner."
The Romanian press quickly took up the cry for the country's national heroine. "They grossly violated sports ethics and the Olympic spirit in full view of the world," wrote the official communist party newspaper in Bucharest.
It was all reminiscent of that scene in 1972 after the Soviet Union's controversial place in defense of her all-around crown.
Another highlight of that second night was the emergence of Davydova, a tiny 18-year-old dazzler who was a late addition to the Soviet team and was competing in her first major international competition.
Now came the big night-the battle for the prestigious all-around championship. Gnauck was the leader on the basis of her overall score in the first two days, and [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] crowd gave her a big hand, seeming to sense that she had done it.
But on the floor a bizarre scene developed as judges, officials, and coaches argued while the crowd moved from expectant silence to murmurs to loud chanting for a decision. At one point Davydova climbed up onto the mat and held up her hands to the cheering crowd as if to signal her victory. Finally, after an unprecendented delay of more than 30 minutes [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] stands changed "fair play, fair play." Now, when Nadia's loss was official, he was disconsolate, storiming around, wringing his head in his hands, his face an ever-changing mirror of disbelief, pleading, anger, and dispair.
The official explanation was that judges from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union had given her scores of 10, 9.9, 9.8 and 9.8, respectively (in gymnastics you throw out the high and low scores, then average the others); that Romanian head judge Maria Simionescu had refused to accept those marks and asked for higher ones; but that in the end the original scores stood.
Karolyi charged, however, that the original scoring had gone 10-10-9.9-9.9, which would have meant the necessary 9.95 [TEXT ILLEGIBLE] that Ellen Berger of East Germany, [TEXT ILLEGIBLE] man of the technical commitee of the women's gymnastics federation, had ordered the lowering of these marks.
Berger, for her part, denied these allegations, calling the coach "a bad sport." And of course we'll never know for sure who's telling the truth and who isn't.
Anyway, the show must go on, and there was still one more night -- with a last chance for Nadia to be golden again. It began inauspiciously for her, though, as Comaneci (who wasn't even in the bars competition because of her earlier fall) fell in the vault.
Now there were just two chance left, starting on the beam, but his time the ending was a happy one, as she edged Shaposhnikova for the gold medal. Then came the floor exercises -- her last competition of 1980 -- and Nadia brought the house down with a series of spectacular cartwheels, somersaults, and other acrobatic maneuvers to a rock music accompaniment. Finally it was all over and the trademark frown of concentration was replaced by a happy smile as she hugged her teammates and coach.
At first the scores indicated that Kim had won the gold medal here, but an upward revision made it a tie between her and Comanceci. Were the judges trying to "even up" for the previous night's questionable events, or was it just, as they insisted, a computer problem? Again, we'll never know.
Nadia did emerge as the only competitor with two individual gold medals in the wide-open competition (the others went to Gnauk [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]