Mary Lou Retton

Category: Olympians, Sports Moms, Women in Sports
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Sports Speaker Mary Lou Retton was born in West Virginia in 1968, and just 4 years later, her mother enrolled her in dance classes. Soon thereafter, her mother enrolled Mary Lou and her older sister in gymnastics classes at West Virginia University. By the age of 12, Mary Lou began competing in national and international competitions. 2 years later, her parents allowed her to move to Houston, Texas, to study with renowned gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi. Bela’s rigorous training routines pushed Mary Lou to become one of the best young gymnasts in the world, and by 1984, Mary Lou Retton had won 14 all-around competitions in a row, and was expected to compete in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. About 6 weeks before the Olympics, Mary Lou experienced knee trouble, which turned out to be torn cartilage. She decided to have surgery and accelerate the usual 3-month rehabilitation, recovering enough to compete in the games.

At the Olympics, Mary Lou won the Olympic gold medal in women’s gymnastics for the all-around event. In addition, Mary Lou Retton won the gold medal for the all-around event, individual silver for the vault, bronze for the uneven bars, bronze for the floor exercise, and silver as part of the United States women’s gymnastics team. The 5 medals were the most for any athlete at the 1984 Olympics. After her retirement from amateur gymnastics, Mary Lou has made many commercials, appeared in several movies and television shows, and continues to be a popular public speaker. Among other recognition, Mary Lou Retton was recognized by Sports Illustrated’s Sportswoman of the Year in 1984, and was the first woman to be featured on the front of a Wheaties box, becoming a spokeswoman for Wheaties in the process. Through many accolades and honors, Mary Lou continues to display a humble demeanor, and has been tagged as America’s sweetheart. In 1997, Mary Lou was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame and is a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.