Mary Lou Retton, a gymnast who was the first American woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal in gymnastics, was born on January 24, 1968 in Fairmont, West Virginia. At the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Retton achieved perfect scores in her final two events (the floor exercise and vault) to win a spectacular victory in the all-around exercises.

At the age of four, Retton started learning dance and acrobatics. A year later, he started training in gymnastics. She relocated to Houston, Texas, in 1983 to train with Bela Karolyi, who assisted Retton in creating a look that complemented her lean, athletic figure. Retton’s groundbreaking approach demonstrated speed, accuracy, and force in contrast to the fluttering, balletic movements then common in floor-event performance, and it revolutionized women’s gymnastics.

Early in the 1980s, Retton had success at important domestic and international competitions, becoming the first American to win the combined-events title at the Chunichi Cup in Japan (1983). She took first place in the vault, floor exercise, and all-around competitions at the 1984 U.S. national championships. Later that year, she competed in her first Olympics.

In the all-around competition, Retton trailed the Romanian team’s Ecaterina Szabo by 0.05 points going into the last rotation and required a perfect score of 10 on the vault to win the gold. She won the gold by flawlessly completing the incredibly challenging Tsukahara vault, a twisting layout back somersault. Additionally, she won individual medals in the vault (silver), uneven parallel bars (bronze), and the floor exercise in addition to leading the American women’s team to a silver, its first medal since 1948. (bronze).

Soon after the Los Angeles Games, Retton resigned from sport and became a motivational speaker and a television analyst. She was the first gymnast to be admitted to the U.S. in 1985. Sports Hall of Fame.

Gymnastics Career

When Retton was eight years old, she was inspired by seeing Nadia Comăneci defeat the defending Olympic two-event champion Olga Korbut on television during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, and she began training in gymnastics in her home town of Fairmont, West Virginia. She received coaching from Gary Rafaloski. She then made the decision to relocate to Houston, Texas, where she would train with Romanians Béla and Márta Károlyi, who had previously coached Nadia Comăneci before they defected to America. Retton quickly established herself in the United States while studying with the Károlyis, taking home the American Cup in 1983 and finishing second to Dianne Durham (another Károlyi student) at the US Nationals that same year. Retton won the American Classic in 1983 and 1984 as well as Japan’s Chunichi Cup in 1983 despite missing the 1983 World Gymnastics Championships due to a wrist injury.

The U.S. won her second American Cup after doing so. Americans and natives both Retton sustained a knee injury while practicing a floor routine at a nearby gymnastics facility during the 1984 Olympic Trials. Her knee locked when she sat down to sign autographs; as a result, she had to have surgery five weeks before the 1984 Summer Olympics, which were to be held in Los Angeles for the first time in 52 years and were to be the first Summer Olympics to be held in the United States. With the exception of Romania, the Soviet bloc countries boycotted the competition, and Retton faced off against Ecaterina Szabo of Romania for the all-around gold medal. She recovered in time for this most important of competitions. Retton finished the final two events in a particularly dramatic fashion, scoring perfect 10s on floor exercise and vault while trailing Szabo (after uneven bars and balance beam) by 0.15 points. There had been concerns that her knee injury and subsequent surgery would have hampered her performance. Retton defeated Szabo by 0.05 points to win the individual all-around gold medal and become the first female gymnast from outside of Eastern Europe. Additionally, she became the first American woman to win an Olympic all-around title, a distinction she kept until the current American all-around winners’ five-peat (in order: Carly Patterson in 2004 in Athens, Nastia Liukin in 2008 in Beijing, Gabby Douglas in 2012 in London, Simone Biles in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and Suni Lee in 2021 in Tokyo).

Retton also took home four more medals from the same Olympics: silver in the team competition, a bronze in the horse vault, and a bronze in the uneven bars. She appeared on a Wheaties box and became the cereal’s first official spokeswoman after winning “Sportswoman of the Year” honors from Sports Illustrated Magazine for her accomplishments.

For the third and final time, Retton won the American Cup all-around competition in 1985. 1986 saw her retirement.


Retton had won 14 straight all-around contests by the time the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles came along. She was 16 at the time. In retaliation for the United States’ boycott of the 1980 Olympics, the Soviet Union and the majority of its allies abstained from the games.

Retton suffered a serious knee injury about six weeks prior to the games, which was later determined to be torn cartilage. Retton was able to walk right away and start training after just one week of physical therapy thanks to the minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery she and her parents chose.

Retton would lie in bed, her eyes closed, in the weeks leading up to the Games, visualizing herself using every piece of apparatus, doing every move flawlessly. She then visualized herself receiving the gold medal while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played in the background.

Olympic Showdown

Creative visualization is effective on occasion. She took home the women’s gymnastics gold medal for the all-around competition at the Olympics. It was a remarkable victory. She was just a hair behind Ecaterina Szabo of Romania going into the final competition. Retton knew she needed a perfect score of 10 to win the vault event and a 9.95 out of 10 to tie Szabo for the gold medal. Her grade was a 10.

She had to perform another vault in accordance with Olympic regulations, but her initial score would stand. She thus scored another 10 out of 10.

Retton won an individual silver for the vault, a bronze for the uneven bars, another bronze for the floor exercise, and another silver as part of the team competition in addition to the gold in the all-around event. At the 1984 Olympic Games, no athlete won more medals than the five they received.

Film and TV appearances

•1985: ABC Funfit; hosted a series of five-minute segments on physical fitness which were broadcast between Saturday morning cartoons.
•1988: Scrooged; as herself.
•1992: Knots Landing; as herself in the episode “Letting Go”.
•1993: Baywatch; in the episode “The Child Inside”.
•1994: An Evening at the Improv; as herself.
•1994: Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult; as herself.
•2002: Mary Lou’s Flip Flop Shop.
•2010: Glee; in the episode “Grilled Cheesus” Sue Sylvester refers to Mary Lou Retton as her worst enemy.
•2014: RadioShack Super Bowl XLVIII commercial “The ’80s Called”; cameo appearance.
•2018: Appeared as a contestant on 27th season of Dancing with the Stars, partnered with Sasha Farber. Eliminated Week 6 – 9th Place


Olympic medalist in gymnastics from 1984.
entering the United States 1985 Olympic Hall of Fame
Summer 1984 Wheaties box appearance
In 1997, he was admitted to the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
In 1984, she was named “Sportswoman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated Magazine.
In 1984, he was named “Amateur Athlete of the Year” by the Associated Press.
the 1993 “Most Popular Athlete in America,” according to a national poll conducted by the Associated Press
With her ex-husband Shannon Kelley, she has four daughters: Shayla Rae Kelley (born in 1995), McKenna Lane Kelley (born in Houston, Texas, on April 15, 1997), Skyla Brae Kelley (born in August 2000), and Emma Kelley (b. 2002, Houston, Texas).
1984 Female Athlete of the Year, Associated Press
At Ellis Island, the family of Retton changed their last name from Rotundo to Retton. Retton takes great pride in her Italian ancestry.
1984 Olympic results: team silver, uneven bars bronze, vault silver, all-around gold
First American woman to win the Olympic all-around gymnastics competition