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Mary Lou Retton

Olympic Visions

A mere six weeks before the Olympics Retton suffered a major knee injury that required surgery. Her parents consulted with the most skilled physician they could find, who flew in to do arthroscopic surgery. The surgery was minimally invasive, and allowed Retton to walk immediately and begin training again a week later, after doing physical therapy to ensure the knee was healing properly. By the time she was to go off to the Olympics she had fully recovered and was stronger than ever. "In the weeks before the Olympics, Mary Lou often lay in her bed with her eyes closed and let her imagination romp. She would visualize herself on each piece of equipment, performing her best routines and hitting every move perfectly," described Sullivan. Retton even went as far as to imagine receiving the gold medal, while hearing the "Star Spangle Banner" booming in the background. Her creative visualization would prove to be prophetic.


1968 Born in Fairmont, West Virginia
1975 Begins taking gymnastics at University of West Virginia
1980 Enters Class I Nationals
1982 Meets coach Bela Karolyi at a meet in Las Vegas, Nevada
1982 Moves to Houston to train with Karolyi<.
1983 Fractures wrist at U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Chicago, Illinois, forcing her to miss the World Gymnatics Championships that year
1984 Competes in the Olympics in Los Angeles, California
1986 Retires from full-time gymnastics
1986 Writes a book with Karolyi about her road to the gold
1990 Marries Shannon Kelley
2000 Writes an inspirational book on how to achieve happiness
2000 Begins production for the children's show created by her and her husband

Mary Lou Retton

It came down to the final event. For almost a week, 16-year-old Mary Lou Retton, America's best female gymnast, had sparred with Romania's Ecaterina Szabo for the gold medal in all-around gymnastics in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The winner would bear the title of finest woman gymnast in the world.

The competition had been nip and tuck. Then Szabo, a solid international star who rarely made a mistake, twirled around the uneven bars with her usual brilliance, earning a score of 9.90.

Now it was Mary Lou's turn on the vault, the last chance for the 4-foot 9-inch, 92-pound dynamo to take home the gold.

As Mary Lou waited her turn, her personal coach, Bela Karolyi, leaned across the barricade that separated him from the contestants and handed her a piece of paper. On it he had done some arithmetic: "Score a 9.95 and you will tie Szabo for the gold. Score a perfect 10 and you will be the all-around champion. Anything less than 9.95 means second place."

Source: Sullivan, George. Mary Lou Retton. New York:Julian Messner, 1985.

The U.S. Women's team performance at the Olympics got off to a rocky start, with several of the girls making critical mistakes during their routines. Fortunately Mary Lou Retton was on their team, who would not accept anything other than a perfect performance. With Retton's perfect 10s along with her teammate Julianne McNamara's perfect performances, they were able to bring the teams score up to medal winning status. These performances lead the team to a silver medal victory. A medal had not been won by the U.S. Women's Gymnastic team since 1948, when they had earned a bronze. The performance was somewhat tainted by the fact that the Soviet Union and their allies (except Romania) had boycotted the Games.

Retton's greatest competition in the all-around competition was Romanian Ecaterina Szabo. They each would compete in a rotation cycle, with Szabo always performing first, which allowed people to compare their scores. Szabo did extremely well on the balance beam, earning a prefect 10. Retton was a little behind due to her routine on the uneven bars, earning a paltry 9.85. This caused her and Szabo to be neck and neck, and tensions were high. With another costly stumble on the balance beam, Retton's chances at a gold were diminishing. She was a fraction of a point behind Szabo. Karolyi, who was in the photographer's area, was cheering Retton on the whole way – and at this point Retton went over to tell her coach that she was going to "stick it." This meant she was going to do her last event, the vault, perfectly to win the gold. She waited in position until the green light on the scoreboard flashed. "Mary Lou raised her right arm to the crowd, then bounded down the runway, rocketed off the springboard to fly some 14 feet. In the air, she combined a back somersault with a double twist, her body stretched out flat like a knife blade. And then she stuck it, landing upright and rock still," writes Sullivan in his account of the moment. Although Retton waited anxiously for her score to be posted, she knew it would be a10. When it was announced she had received a 10 she ran to the runway and waved at the crowd excitedly. Retton wasn't done though, as Olympic rules state that she had to complete another vault. She did just that, and to prove that she was worth her weight in gold, she did another perfect 10 vault. Karolyi said after the event, "Very few have her power to keep going like a bulldozer to get what they want and go on to win."

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Famous Sports StarsGymnasticsMary Lou Retton Biography - Inspired By Nadia, Karolyi The Bear, Olympic Visions, Chronology, Mary Lou Retton, Dreams Do Come True - CONTACT INFORMATION, SELECTED WRITINGS BY RETTON: