Canada’s first ever Olympics would need a stunning distraction from the embarrassment suffered when 28 nations pulled out of the games amid geopolitical clashes, and it came in the form of the “contradictory” Nadia Comeneci. The Romanian gymnast, just 14 years old, a teenager weighing in at a mere 86 pounds, stole the stage with her effortless performances, earning a perfect score of 10.00 not just once but seven times. TIME’s cover story gave a glimpse of her grace in front of the world’s eye: “No 747 ever set itself down on a two-mile runway with more assurance or aplomb.” Comeneci won three golds in Montreal.
It was a perfection, TIME noted, dulled slightly by the overwhelming boycott of the games by 28 nations. More than two dozen African nations walked out after the IOC refused to ban New Zealand after the nation sent a rugby team to South Africa (which had been banned from the Olympics for its apartheid tendencies). China and Taiwan both refused to compete, feuding over the legitimacy of each other.