Abu Dhabi: There have been superstars and then there have been legends, but none can claim to have taken their sport to the heights Nadia Comaneci took gymnastics during her heyday. She is synonymous with the grace and beauty of the sport and it's no wonder that two moves - a salto and a dismount - have been named after her. The 49-year-old Romanian stands head and shoulders above any other gymnast even today and in an interview to XPRESS on the sidelines of the Laureus Sports Awards - she is a founder member of the academy - Comaneci revealed why she thinks the sport has lost its popularity.
"It has something to do with the lack of stars, I guess. Can you name any standout gymnast since the 2000 Sydney Olympics?" she asked.
"A sport like gymnastics needs larger-than-life figures to thrive and unfortunately we haven't had any for a while," she added.
Having taken the world by storm as a petite 14-year-old at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 when she scored the first perfect 10 ever in an Olympics on the uneven bars, Comaneci understandably didn't sound too happy with doing away with that score.
"It's so hard to define sports like ours and we had something unique. The 10, it was ours first and now you give it away. Gymnastics has lost a lot of fans because of that. Now you have points around 15s and 16s which to the average onlooker means nothing.
With the perfect 10, even if you scored 9.80 or something, spectators knew how close you were to being perfect. Honestly, it has now become more confusing for fans. Now you have 10s only for executions which is just a part of the total score," she said.
And she added that raising the minimum age limit to 16 hasn't helped matters either. "Personally, I don't see why they should raise the minimum age to 16. I mean if you haven't turned 16 by one Olympics, then your first would probably come when you are around 20 and that would be it, given how short our careers are," she said, adding: "These days the longevity of a gymnast has decreased as well. One Olympics and they are gone. How will people remember names then?"
Comaneci, however, held out some hope. "Russia's Aliya Mustafina is a name to look out for in the London Olympics given she is already a world champion. As for Romania, we did have Sandra Izbasa winning gold in Beijing and it looks like there's a revival in my old country as well," she said.