Having just graduated high school, Bart Conner was the youngest member of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games.
Eight years later, at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, Conner was back in the spotlight – and making even bigger headlines as he won a gold medal on the parallel bars and helped the United States win its first men’s team all-around Olympic gymnastics gold medal in 80 years.
Conner’s performance was even more remarkable because he had suffered a torn bicep muscle only a few months before the U.S. Olympic Trials. A similar injury in 1980 had taken much longer to recover from, and Conner did not have the luxury of time in 1984.
Conner’s gymnastics ability began to show at a young age growing up in suburban Chicago.
“I would play at Austin Park when I was little, and from a very early age I was able to do a handstand on the monkey bars,” Conner said in an interview. “My parents realized my talent and I just went from there.
Conner quickly became a standout and eventually became the most accomplished American male gymnast, winning a gold medal at every level of national and international competition. He met fellow gymnast Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 American Cup in New York City, where he won the men’s title and she won the women’s. After Comaneci defected to the United States in 1989, Conner arranged to surprise her on the set of a television talk show and they eventually married in 1996.
“Sometimes the story seems just a little too cute,” Conner said. “Joe Midwest and the mysterious beauty from Transylvania. The script’s been written but it’s in the bottom of my desk.”