Mary Lou Retton

Mary Lou Retton (born January 24, 1968) is an American gymnast. She was the first female gymnast from outside Eastern Europe to win the Olympic all-around title.


Personal life

Retton was born in Fairmont, West Virginia of Italian heritage (her family's original surname was "Rotunda"). Her father, Ronnie, operated a coal-industry transportation equipment business.

Retton now lives in Houston, Texas. She is married to Houston real estate developer Shannon Kelley with four daughters: Shayla Rae (born 1995), McKenna Lane (born 1997), Skyla Brae (born 2000), and Emma Jean (born 2002).

Gymnastics career

Inspired by watching Nadia Comăneci on television, Retton took up gymnastics in her hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia. She was coached in Fairmont by Gary Rafaloski (Aerial Port Gymnastics). She then decided to move to Houston, Texas, to train under the Romanians Béla and Marta Károlyi, who had coached Nadia Comăneci before their defection to the United States. Under the Karolyis, Retton soon began to make a name for herself in the United States, winning the American Cup in 1983 and placing second to Dianne Durham (another Karolyi student) in the US Nationals that same year. Retton, however, missed the World Championships in 1983 due to a wrist injury. Nevertheless, Retton managed to win the American Classic in 1983 and 1984, as well as Japan's prestigious Chunichi Cup in 1983.

After winning her second American Cup, the US Nationals, and the US Olympic Trials in 1984, Retton suffered a knee injury that forced her to undergo an operation. However, she recovered just in time for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. In the competition, which was boycotted by the Soviet bloc nations except for Romania, Retton engaged in a close battle with Ecaterina Szabó of Romania for the all-around title, to the delight of the patriotic audience. Trailing Szabó (after bars and beam) with two events to go, Retton scored perfect 10s on floor exercise and vault to win the all-around title by just 0.05 points.

At the same Olympics, Retton won four additional medals: a silver in the team competition and the horse vault, and bronze in the floor exercise and uneven bars. For her performance, she was named Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportswoman of the Year" (shared with fellow American Edwinmeany). She appeared on a Wheaties box, and became the cereal's first official spokeswoman. Her small stature led a wag at SPORT magazine to comment that "Her life-size picture now appears on the Wheaties box."

Post-Olympic career

A Baptist Christian conservative, she was an outspoken supporter of the Reagan Administration in the United States. She appeared in a variety of televised ads supporting Ronald Reagan, at the height of her popularity. Retton delivered the Pledge of Allegiance with fellow former gymnast and 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Strug on the second night of the 2004 Republican National Convention.

The people in Retton's hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia, were supportive of her Olympic endeavors. A street and park in the town were later named after her. Retton retired from gymnastics after winning an unprecedented third American Cup title in 1985. She later had cameo appearances as herself in Scrooged and Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult.

During the 1990s, Retton worked as a spokeswoman for the U.S. drugstore chain Revco. Retton was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.

In 1997, Retton was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Retton has won many commercial endorsements, including the first appearance by a female on a Wheaties box. She is also a frequent analyst for televised gymnastics and attended The University of Texas at Austin after the Olympics.

Medical conditions and endorsements

Retton was born with hip dysplasia, a condition that was aggravated by her years as a competitive gymnast. After experiencing increased pain she had hip replacement surgery on her left hip in her mid-30s. Retton also suffered from an overactive bladder and arthritis. She serves as a paid spokesperson for Biomet and for Pfizer to publicize treatment for these conditions.

Gymnastics legacy

Retton has a skill named after her on the uneven bars called "The Retton Flip," a transition (front flip) from low- to high-bar, resulting in the gymnast perched or "sitting" on top of the high bar. Because the bars have been pushed further apart in the decades since she first performed that element, it is believed to be no longer possible to perform.

In 2002, Retton starred in the children's televison program, Mary Lou's Flip Flop Shop, a series she created with her husband for PBS. The series was produced by HoustonPBS. Originally slated for 13 episodes, only five episodes aired. Old episodes of the series are still seen in re-runs in some markets and are available on DVD.


External links

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