On The Bricks

June 15, 2021

Oklahoma has a rich history of gymnastics. Three of the world’s top gymnasts who have a strong tie to Oklahoma are Bart Conner, Nadia Comanechi, and Shannon Miller.

Bart Conner. Conner is a retired American Olympic gymnast who was a member of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, Conner won two gold medals. He currently owns and operates the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Norman, Okla., with his wife, Romanian Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comăneci.

Conner was born on Mar. 28, 1958 and grew up in Illinois. He first became involved in gymnastics at school and his local YMCA. He attended the University of Oklahoma to work with gymnastics coach Paul Ziert. Conner graduated from OU in 1984, where he was an All-American and won the 1981 Nissen Award as America’s best gymnast.

He took the 1972 U.S. Junior National Championships when he was 14 and the U.S. Gymnastics Federation All-Around championship when he was 17, and was the youngest member of the Olympic team during the 1976 Summer Olympics. He also won a team all-around gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games.

Although he qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics, he was unable to participate due to the boycott. Four years later, in the 1984 Summer Olympics, he won two gold medals for the team all-around and for the men’s parallel bars. His win on the parallel bars helped the U.S. win its first men’s Olympic gymnastic gold medal in 80 years. He also demonstrated an original move called the “Conner spin” during the 1984 Olympics.
Conner is a highly decorated gymnast who has won “medals at every level of national and international competition.” Some of his honors include induction into the USOC Olympic Hall of Fame (1991), the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame (1996), Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame (1997), and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame (1997). While Connor did not compete in the 1980 games, he was one of 461 athletes to receive a Congressional Gold Medal many years later.

Nadia Comaneci. On Nov. 27, 1989, Nadia Comăneci, the famous Romanian gymnast Oklahoma gymnast Bart Conner met at the 1976 Montreal games, defected from Romania with a group of other Romanians. In January 1990, when Conner read in the newspaper that she was scheduled to be interviewed on The Pat Sajak Show, he contacted the producer and arranged to make a guest appearance on the show. Comăneci was in an abusive relationship with the person who had led the escape group and who was acting as her current manager and promoter. Conner sensed her fear of this person and reached out to help. According to a 1996 New York Times article, “He helped make the connections that eventually led to her escape from that abusive relationship, and a new life in Montreal with a Romanian rugby coach and his family. For a year, they were phone pals.”

In 1990, Conner interviewed her for ABC. A few months later, Conner was invited to her 29th birthday party, after which they developed a long-distance friendship for a few years. When a mutual friend died in an accident in 1991, Conner invited Comăneci to Oklahoma to help him run a gymnastics school. They were together for four years before they became engaged. On Apr. 27, 1996, Conner and Comăneci were married in a ceremony in Bucharest that was televised live throughout Romania. Their wedding reception was held in the former presidential palace. Conner and Comăneci have one child, a son named Dylan Paul Conner who was born on June 3, 2006, in Oklahoma City.

Shannon Miller is an American former artistic gymnast who was the 1993 and 1994 world all-around champion, the 1996 Olympic balance beam champion, the 1995 Pan American Games all-around champion, and a member of the gold medal-winning Magnificent Seven team at the 1996 Olympics.

As far as Olympic Medalists, Miller is currently the most decorated U.S. gymnast, male or female, with a total of seven Olympic medals. With a combined total of 16 World Championships and Olympic medals between 1991 and 1996, she is the second most decorated gymnast, male or female, in U.S. history, behind Simone Biles, and the thirteenth most decorated gymnast from any country by her individual Olympic medal count. She was also the most successful American athlete at the 1992 Olympics, winning five medals.

Miller was born on Mar. 10, 1977, in Missouri, but she and her family moved to Edmond, Okla., while she was an infant. She began gymnastics at age five and traveled to Moscow with her mother at the age of nine to participate in a gymnastics camp.

As a teenager, Miller attended Edmond North High School, working with a flexible program that accommodated her training, travel and competition schedule. Miller’s mother was a bank vice president, and her father was a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.

For most of her career, Miller was coached by Steve Nunno and Peggy Liddick, who went on to become the national coach of the Australian women’s gymnastics team.

In 2003, Miller graduated from the University of Houston with a B.B.A. in marketing and entrepreneurship. She entered Boston College Law School later that year and graduated in 2007.

New Year’s resolutions all year: Take the stairs.

Good advice: “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” ~Mr. Rogers

See you on the bricks!