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COMANECI becomes U.S. citizen

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci ended an 11-year journey to freedom Friday when she took the oath to become a U.S. citizen.

``The world is open today,'' Comaneci, 39, said after a ceremony at the Oklahoma City federal courthouse. ``But it wasn't always that way.''

Comaneci captured the world's attention at 14, earning seven perfect scores and winning three gold medals and the all-around title in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

The world would not hear from Comaneci much after she returned home to Romania, at the time a Soviet bloc country under the repressive control of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Comaneci had a privileged life that included cars, jewelry and a villa, but she did not have freedom, she said.

``I come from a wonderful country with wonderful people,'' she said. ``But we were living with a system telling us how to live.''

Months before a revolution that eventually led to Ceausescu's death, Comaneci and six others trudged for six hours through mud in 1989 to Hungary and the freedom she sought. From there, she made it to the United States.

Comaneci met up later with gymnastics coach and former Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner. He found out she was appearing on a talk show in California and managed to get booked on the same show, where he gave Comaneci his telephone number.

``We started becoming good friends,'' Conner said. ``We would get closer.''

Conner invited Comaneci to Norman to help coach at his gymnastics school in 1991, and the two were married in a state ceremony in her native Romania five years later.

On Friday, Conner stood nearby, snapping photos during the ceremony.

``I never thought I would be standing here, married to an All-American guy, living in Oklahoma,'' she told a packed courtroom at the ceremony. ``What a country.''

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