Mary Lou Retton (born January 24, 1968) is an American gymnast and Olympic gold medalist. She was the first female gymnast from outside Eastern Europe to win the Olympic all-around title, after 14 Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and thus eliminating the greatest competition, the Soviet Union. Retton was famous for her explosive power, compact size and irrepresible smile. Her strongest events were floor and vault while her weakest was beam.
Retton was born in Fairmont, West Virginia, of Italian heritage (her family's original surname was "Rotunda"). Her father, Ronnie, operated a coal-industry transportation equipment business. She attended Fairmont Senior High School, but did not graduate. She competed in the Olympic games during her sophomore year. Retton lived in Houston, Texas until 2009, when her family returned to West Virginia.
Inspired by watching Nadia Comăneci on television, Retton took up gymnastics in her hometown of Fairmont. She was coached by Gary Rafaloski. She then decided to move to Houston, Texas, to train under Romanians Béla and Márta Károlyi, who had coached Nadia Comăneci before their defection to the United States. Under the Károlyis, Retton soon began to make a name for herself in the United States, winning the American Cup in 1983 and placing second to Dianne Durham (another Károlyi student) at the US Nationals that same year. Retton missed the World Championships in 1983 due to a wrist injury. Nevertheless, Retton won the American Classic in 1983 and 1984, as well as Japan's Chunichi Cup in 1983.
After winning her second American Cup, the US Nationals, and the US Olympic Trials in 1984, Retton suffered a knee injury when she was performing a floor routine at a local gymnastics center. She had sat down to sign autographs when she felt her knee lock, forcing her to undergo an operation. She recovered just in time for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. In the competition, which was boycotted by the Soviet bloc nations except for Romania, Retton engaged in a close battle with Ecaterina Szabó of Romania for the all-around title. Retton's and Szabo's gymnastics could not be more different: Retton was the powerhouse and acrobat with an accessible American style, while Szabo was the artist and technician with more refined European sensibilties. Both possesed difficult skill sets and strong all-around capabilities. Trailing Szabó (after bars and beam) being 15 hundredths behind, with two events to go, Retton scored perfect 10s on floor exercise and vault to win the all-around title by 0.05 points.
At the same Olympics, Retton won four additional medals: silver in the team competition and the horse vault, and bronze in the floor exercise and uneven bars. For her performance, she was named Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportswoman of the Year". She appeared on a Wheaties box, and became the cereal's first official spokeswoman.
She retired from gymnastics after winning an unprecedented third American Cup title in 1985. Retton was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.
In 1993 the Associated Press released results of a sports study in which Retton was statistically tied for first place with fellow Olympian Dorothy Hamill as the most popular athlete in America.
In 1997, Retton was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. She continues to be cited as an influence on gymnasts to this day.
|1981||U.S. Olympic Festival||2nd|
|1982||Junior American Classic||6|
|International Mixed Pairs||2nd|
|International Mixed Pairs||3rd|
|U.S. Olympic Trials||1st|
|Los Angeles Olympic Games||2nd||1st||2nd||3rd||3rd|