Nadia Comaneci takes Havana


HAVANA -- Incredibly, this summer it will have been 40 years since Nadia Comaneci turned her perfect-10s at the Montreal Summer Games. As difficult as those 10s were, the trick she has perfected since is perhaps all the more difficult.

Over the years, Nadia has emerged as one of the very few Olympic stars who is not only known by her first name but known virtually everywhere. She and her husband, the American gymnast Bart Conner, himself a gold medalist in Los Angeles in 1984, are hailed far and wide as first-rate ambassadors for the Olympic ideals.

This perhaps explains why, a few weeks back, the Rome 2024 bid committee tweeted out a photo of Nadia during her competition years:

Only to have Conner file this rejoinder:

With U.S.-Cuba relations moving toward a new normal, Comaneci took part this past weekend in a variety of events in Havana, including an appearance at the Cuban national gymnastics academy, where -- among others -- the 2015 men's world championship silver medalist, Manrique Larduet, trains.

So, too, little girls who dream of being Nadia.

He, and they, were thrilled -- in the kind of occasion the Olympic world needs way more of -- the star herself, the embodiment of dreaming big dreams.

It all reminded her, Nadia would say afterward, of Romania a long time ago. And what was -- still, is -- possible.

A squadron of 9- to 11-year-old girls waits expectantly for Nadia

The big finale of their skills show for Nadia (far right)

Big smiles all around

Does it get any better?

Maybe only if you are up high taking a picture of Nadia with a phone that has a special case that looks like a watermelon

Or you get the double score of having Nadia autograph your leotard

The beam made for one of Nadia's seven perfect-10s in 1976

A quick peek in on the rhythmic gymnasts

A few feet, and moments, away at the men's gym

Pommel horse practice

Building strength for the still rings

At the squat rack, in a small room where the winter sun provides the only light

The worn, sagging floor that supports the Olympic dream

The water fountain

Undeterred by obstacle or odds

With Larduet, left

'Gracias y hasta la próxima vez': until we meet again ...