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On This Date in Sports August 3, 1984: Hello Mary Lou

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Gymnast Mary Lou Retton becomes the sweetheart of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, winning the Gold Medal in the Women’s All-Around event. The 16-year-old from West Virginia won the Gold Medal after scoring perfect ten scores on the floor exercise and the vault just five weeks after knee surgery. Retton becomes the first American to win the honor of the Gold Medal as the Best Gymnast at the Olympic Games.

Born January 24, 1968, in Fairmount, West Virginia, Mary Lou Retton's father worked in the coal industry. At the age of eight, young Mary Lou became interested in gymnastics after watching the Gold Medal performance of Nadia Comaneci. In 1980, Nadia Comaneci’s coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi defected from Romania, settling in Houston, where they began a gymnastics camp for Americans. Their first student was Mary Lou Retton, who, by the age of 12, was showing great promise and moved to attend the camp.

By 1984, Mary Lou Retton had become America’s top Gymnast, as she won the American Cup in 1983 and qualified as part of the Women’s team for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. The Summer Olympics in 1984 was a boon for Team USA as they went on a record-breaking medal haul after the Soviet Union and 13 other Eastern Bloc Countries held a boycott in response to the United States-led boycott of the 1980 games in Moscow.

Gymnastics powerhouses China and Romania did not join in the Communist Boycott. They provided the Americans with a formidable gymnastics competition held at the Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA. The USA Men’s Gymnastics team took full advantage of the Eastern Bloc boycott, winning Gold for the first time and, thus far, only time. The Women, meanwhile, fell just short of their golden quest, settling for Silver as the team from Romania stood at the top of the podium. During the team competition, Mary Lou Retton came out with high scores on the way to qualifying for the individual final, which was somewhat unexpected as she had knee surgery just five weeks before the game.

In the individual final, all eyes were on Mary Lou, who was clearly at her best in Los Angeles as she got a 9.85 on the uneven bars and a 9.8 on the balance beam. However, she was second to q of Romania, trailing by 0.15. That is when Mary Lou landed a perfect ten in the vault to jump herself over Szabo on top of the competition going into the final discipline. Retton landed another perfect ten on the floor exercise to clinch the Gold Medal, becoming the first American woman to win the Olympic individual all-around event. Mary Lou Retton would later add a silver medal in the vault and bronze medals in the floor exercise and uneven bars.

After the Olympics, Mary Lou Retton became a big star landing herself on a Wheaties Box as she was named Sports Person of the Year along with Edwin Moses by Sports Illustrated.