Mary Lou Retton catapulted to international fame and ignited a new era of American dominance in gymnastics during the 1984 Summer Olympics, when she became the first American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics, scoring two perfect 10s along the way. Today, Mary Lou remains deeply involved in the gymnastics community, and she is the mother of four daughters, all of who are accomplished athletes as well.
Born in Fairmont, West Virginia, in 1968, Mary Lou was the youngest of five children. She became enthralled with gymnastics at eight years old when she watched Nadia Comăneci take the 1976 Olympics by storm. Nadia’s coach, the legendary Béla Károlyi, approached Mary Lou during a competition in Reno, Nevada, and told her that she had what it takes to become one of the greatest gymnasts of all time. Béla offered to coach her, and at age 14, she packed two small duffle bags and moved to Houston to begin training for her ultimate goal: the Olympics.
No American woman had ever won a gold medal in gymnastics before the 1984 summer games—but 16-year-old Mary Lou was about to make history. In the final events of the women’s all-around, Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo scored a 9.9 on the uneven bars. Mary Lou would need a 10 on her vault to win the gold, and she had two attempts to do it. She scored a perfect 10 on both.
Mary Lou would win five medals during the 1984 Olympics, the most won by any athlete during that summer’s games. During her gymnastics careers, she was also the only woman to win three American Cups and the only American to win Japan’s prestigious Chunichi Cup. She won two U.S. Gymnastics Federation American Classics and the all-around title at both the 1984 National Championships and the Olympic Trials. And, she was the first woman ever to appear on the iconic Wheaties box. In 1997, Mary Lou was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Mary Lou retired from competitive gymnastics in 1986. She served as a commentator for NBC at the 1988 Olympics, wrote a daily column for USA Today during the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, and co-hosted the television series “Road To Olympic Gold.”
She has appeared in “Scrooged” in 1988 and “Naked Gun 33 1/3” in 1994. She has made appearances on numerous television shows, including “Guiding Light,” “Knots Landing,” and in one of the highest rated “Baywatch” episodes ever. In 2014, she appeared in the RadioShack Super Bowl XLVIII commercial “The ‘80s Called.”
Today, Mary Lou is a renowned motivational speaker and corporate spokesperson who travels the world as a “Fitness Ambassador,” promoting the benefits of proper nutrition and regular exercise.