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Bela Karolyi

Success In The U.s.

Just prior to his September 1982 buyout of the Houston gymnasium, Karolyi met a young gymnast named Mary Lou Retton at the Junior Nationals in Salt Lake City, Utah. He invited her to come to Houston to train at his gym. She departed from her home in Fairmont, West Virginia, and arrived at Karolyi's on New Year's Day.

Less than three months later—in March 1983—Retton competed in and won the McDonald's American Cup competition in New York City. In December Karolyi brought her to Japan where she won the Chunichi Cup. In all, from the spring of 1983 until the time of the summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, she collected 14 consecutive all-around titles, including a successful defense of the American Cup title early in 1984. She was one of two of Karolyi's trainees to make the Olympic team that year, the other being Julianne McNamara.

The Olympic gymnastic competition that year was held at the Pauley Pavilion at the University of California. Ironically, the entire Communist Bloc of nations participated in a boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics—with the exception of Romania. Karolyi, although not a member of the official coaching staff, managed to secure a spot as an equipment mover on the Olympic competition floor.

At the finals McNamara scored a 10 on the parallel bars; it was the first time an American woman recorded a perfect score in any gymnastics event in the history of the Olympics. What is more, the team won a bronze medal that year. It was the first U.S. medal for women's gymnastics since 1948. In the all-around competition Retton scored a perfect 10 on the floor exercise and another 10 on the vault event. She emerged with a gold medal in the individual competition, after a neck-and-neck rivalry against Ecaterina (Kathy) Szabo, one of Karolyi's former students from Romania.

Back in Houston after the Olympics, the enrollment at Karolyi's gym skyrocketed to 1,400 students in the shadow of the impressive outcome. Then-16-year-old Retton continued her domination of women's gymnastics by taking the American Cup for an unprecedented third time in 1985.

Karolyi adopted U.S. citizenship on May 1, 1990. He accompanied the U.S. women's gymnastics team to the Olympic games in Barcelona, Spain in 1992, to a disappointing outcome. Although he retired from Olympic coaching after Barcelona he continued to operate his Houston gym and the summer camp in New Waverly. He remained one of the premiere gymnastic coaches worldwide.

Having published Mary Lou: Creating an Olympic Champion, with John Powers and Mary Lou Retton in 1984, Karolyi in his retirement wrote a personal memoir. The book, Feel No Fear: the Power, Passion, and Politics of a Life in Gymnastics with Nancy Ann Richardson, was published by Hyperion in 1994. In both volumes he presents his philosophies of aggressive coaching. He praises further the personal fortitude of the many gymnasts who have displayed the presence of character to follow his regimen and reap the rewards.

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Famous Sports StarsGymnasticsBela Karolyi Biography - Early Life In Romania, Recognition In Competition, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Olympians, Dissatisfaction - SELECTED WRITINGS BY KAROLYI: