Comaneci: Rescuer stole money, held me captive

Published July 29, 1990|Updated Oct. 17, 2005

SEATTLE _ Former Romanian gymnastics star Nadia Comaneci said Saturday she was held captive for three months by the man who helped her defect to the West last December and later was portrayed as her lover. In her first extensive interview concerning her relationship with Constantin Panait, Comaneci also said the Romanian carpenter had "stolen" from her $150,000 she earned in appearances throughout the United States after her defection.

Comaneci, in Seattle for the Goodwill Games, when asked if Panait had threatened or physically abused her, she replied, "He was not so good with me."

Comaneci said Panait fled with $150,000 she had earned on her tour of the United States three days after they arrived in Montreal last February to visit Alexandru Stefu, a friend of Comaneci's former Romanian coach, Bela Karolyi.

Stefu said he sought out Comaneci at the request of Karolyi, who became concerned after hearing Comaneci did not want to meet her former coach.

"Bela told me he thought Nadia had a problem," said Stefu.

Comaneci, who won eight medals in Montreal in 1976 and became the first gymnast to register a perfect score in the Olympics, drew considerable negative press in the United States while in the company of Panait, a married man and father of four. Comaneci, however, denied there was any romantic involvement on her part and that she joined Panait only after he offered to help her escape from Romania. She said Panait was paid $5,000 to help her escape and the two crossed the border into Hungary at midnight on Nov. 25, 1989. After being detained briefly by Hungarian police, they were released.

The couple arrived in New York on Nov. 28 and became an immediate media attraction. Comaneci said from the time she joined Panait, he dictated her every move.

"He didn't let anyone near me," Comaneci said. "He told me all the time what I must say."

Comaneci said she met Panait at a family party a week before she defected and had not known him for a year, as she initially indicated.

"I said I knew him for one year because he said it would be better for me to get the visa if I declared that," Comaneci said. "He told me also to declare that I don't want to come back in gymnastics or to see my former coach, Bela Karolyi."

Comaneci said she had no one else to turn to in the United States or Canada and had no way of contacting Karolyi.

"I didn't know nobody. I was a like a stranger and didn't know my rights," she said. "He told me all the time that if I don't say what he said, he would send me back to Romania.

"I read the papers and knew that I had a negative press for the first time in my life. But I couldn't fight against this. I couldn't find somebody to explain the truth because I was afraid."

Stefu, who now serves as Comaneci's personal manager, said he contacted Panait in Los Angeles and asked to meet with Nadia. Stefu said he told Panait he could arrange a major contract for Comaneci.

Comaneci said Panait has returned to his family and now lives in Florida. He has tried to contact her only once since last March. He could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Around the Games . . .

Basketball: The United States basketball team will not have a chance for revenge against the Soviet Union in the Goodwill Games, but Mike Krzyzewski is not complaining.

"No, we'd be playing for the bronze medal," said the Duke University coach.

Instead of a rematch with the Soviet Union, the team that beat them on Tuesday, the young American players will go for the gold medal tonight against Yugoslavia.

The United States advanced Friday night with a 112-95 victory over Brazil, despite 38 points by the legendary Oscar Schmidt, while Yugoslavia beat the Soviet Union 84-78.

Gymnastics: Natalia Kalinina of the Soviet Union scored a perfect 10 in the vault, her final competition, to win the gold in the women's all-around competition with 39.836 points. Svetlana Boginskaya was second with 39.799. Top American Kim Zmeskal, who scored 39.661 in the team competition Friday, fell from the uneven parallel bars and had to settle for 39.074 points and sixth place.

After the fall, the 14-year-old Zmeskal, in her first major international competition, redeemed herself with a 9.950 in the floor exercise, the highest score of the night to that point, but by then, it was too late.

Henrietta Onodi of Hungary won the bronze with 39.348. American Betty Okino, who also started slowly, rallied to finish fourth with 39.298 points.

Baseball: Japan took advantage of six United States errors to defeat the Americans 7-6 in 14 innings when Kojiro Machida homered off Phillip Stidham. The Americans had rallied to tie it with a run in the ninth.

Jim Austin and David McCarty homered for the United States.

Wrestling: The U.S. team advanced to the finals by winning all 10 matches to defeat South Korea 32.5-5. Nate Carr of Morgantown, W.Va., who lost to Pang Jang-Soon in the 1988 Olympics, beat him for the Goodwill Games gold medal in the 149.5-pound class. The U.S. met the Soviet Union in the final late Saturday.

Hockey: Joe Sacco scored two goals to lift the United States to a 7-1 victory over Switzerland in the first game for both teams.

Boxing: U.S. 112-pound champion Rudolph Bradley of East St. Louis, Ill., was knocked to the canvas in the first minute but came back for a 4-1 decision over Raul Gonzales of Cuba.


Through 105 medal events

Country G S B Tot

USA 42 40 25 107

Soviet Union 36 34 30 100

East Germany 10 6 21 37

West Germany 3 2 3 8

China 1 4 3 8

Cuba 3 2 2 7