The Sports Archives – Gymnastics Greats: Mary Lou Retton

mary lou retton

The first American to win the all-round gymnastics medal at the Olympics, along with being one of the greatest gymnasts the country has ever produced, Mary Lou Retton will always have a special place in sports history. The 1984 Summer Olympics were her shining moment – the moment when Mary Lou showed the world what she could do on the gymnastics floor. Aside from her all-round gold medal at those games, she also won a couple of silver and bronze medals for her country. Only four Americans have matched Retton’s feat since the 1984 Olympics, highlighting her raw talent and dedication to the sport.

Mary Lou Retton’s Gymnastics Journey

Born in West Virginia, Mary Lou Retton had a rather simple childhood. Her dad worked in the coal industry, but her parents were always quick to recognize their daughter’s talents. They knew she had the potential to become a gymnastics star from a very young age, which is why Retton began training since 1976. She was only eight at the time, but having watched the 1976 Summer Olympics on television, she was mesmerized by the sport, and she was determined to become a success at it. Her first major success came in 1983, when she won the American Cup and finished second at the United States Nationals. She was unable to contend in the World Championships that same year due to an injury, but she had already announced herself to the gymnastics world.

The start of 1984 proved very successful for Mary Lou Retton. Not only did she claim her place on the Olympic team, but she also won the American Cup and the U.S. Nationals. However, she suffered a knee injury while signing autographs during one of her training sessions at her local gym. What initially seemed like an innocuous injury turned into a serious matter, and Mary Lou Retton had to go through knee surgery less than five months before the start of the Summer Olympics in 1984!

Maybe experts had not given her a chance of returning to her previous form. They felt that even if she competed in those Olympics in Los Angeles, she would be a shadow of her former self. However, Retton was determined to make a good impression, and her coaches and trainers did everything possible to get her in the right condition for the games. And Retton managed to prove everyone wrong, winning the overall medal and becoming the first person who was not from Eastern Europe to win the overall gold at a gymnastics event!

Mary Lou Retton eventually retired from gymnastics in 1986, with injuries taking their toll on her performances and body. She bowed out after winning the American Cup for a third time in 1985, but she never managed to compete in another Olympic Games. Instead, she dedicated her life to philanthropy, and she even dabbled in a little bit of politics. Given how important her religion was to her life, it is no surprise Mary Lou Retton was a huge fan of the Republican Party – and of Ronald Reagan!