Mary Lou Retton

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Mary Lou Retton
Personal information
Nickname(s)America's Sweetheart[1]
Country represented United States
Born (1968-01-24) January 24, 1968 (age 55)
Fairmont, West Virginia
Height4 ft 9 in (145 cm)
Weight93 lb (42 kg)[1]
DisciplineWomen's artistic gymnastics
ClubKarolyi Gym
Former coach(es)Bela Károlyi, Márta Károlyi
RetiredSeptember 29, 1986
Medal record
Event 1st 2nd 3rd
Olympic Games 1 2 2
American Cup 3 0 0
Total 4 2 2
Event 1st 2nd 3rd
All-Around (OG) 1 1 0
Uneven Bars (OG) 0 0 1
Balance Beam (OG) 0 0 0
Vault (OG) 0 1 0
Floor Exercise (OG) 0 0 1
Total 1 2 2
Women's artistic gymnastics
Representing  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1984 Los Angeles All-around
Silver medal – second place 1984 Los Angeles Team
Silver medal – second place 1984 Los Angeles Vault
Bronze medal – third place 1984 Los Angeles Uneven bars
Bronze medal – third place 1984 Los Angeles Floor exercise
American Cup
Gold medal – first place 1983 New York All-around
Gold medal – first place 1984 New York All-around
Gold medal – first place 1985 Indianapolis All-around

Mary Lou Retton (born January 24, 1968) is an American retired gymnast. At the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she won a gold medal in the individual all-around competition, as well as two silver medals and two bronze medals.[2] Her performance made her one of the most popular athletes in the United States.[3]

Her gold medal win was historic as Retton was the first American woman to win the all-around gold medal in Olympic gymnastics.[4][5]

Personal life[edit]

Mary Lou Retton was born on January 24, 1968, in Fairmont, West Virginia.[6] (The original family name was "Rotunda.")[7] Her father, Ronnie, operated a coal-industry transportation equipment business. She attended Fairmont Senior High School, but did not graduate.[8] She competed in the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles, California, during her sophomore year of high school.[9]

Retton lived in Houston, Texas,[10] until 2009, when her family returned to West Virginia. She moved back to Houston in 2012. She was married to former University of Texas quarterback and Houston real estate developer Shannon Kelley, who now works for the Houston Baptist University athletic department.[11] Together they have four daughters: Shayla (born 1995), McKenna (born 1997), a former NCAA gymnast at Louisiana State University, Skyla (born 2000), and Emma (born 2002).[12]

Retton divorced her husband in February 2018.[13]

Gymnastics career[edit]

Retton was inspired by watching Nadia Comăneci outshine defending Olympic two-event winner Olga Korbut on television at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, when she herself was eight years of age, and she took up gymnastics in her hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia. She was coached by Gary Rafaloski. She then decided to move to Houston, Texas, to train under Romanians Béla and Márta Károlyi, who had coached Nadia Comăneci before their defection to the United States. Under the Károlyis, Retton soon began to make a name for herself in the U.S., winning the American Cup in 1983 and placing second to Dianne Durham (another Károlyi student) at the US Nationals that same year. Though Retton missed the World Gymnastics Championships in 1983 due to a wrist injury, she won the American Classic in 1983 and 1984, as well as Japan's Chunichi Cup in 1983.

Retton performing splits on a balance beam, 1985

After winning her second American Cup, the U.S. Nationals, and the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1984, Retton suffered a knee injury when she was performing a floor routine at a local gymnastics center at this time. She had sat down to sign autographs when she felt her knee lock, forcing her to undergo an operation five weeks prior to the 1984 Summer Olympics, which were going to be held in Los Angeles—the first time the Summer Olympics had been held in the United States in 52 years.[14] She recovered just in time for this most prestigious of tournaments, and in the competition, which was boycotted by the Soviet bloc nations except for Romania, Retton was engaged in a close battle with Ecaterina Szabo of Romania for the all-around gold medal. Trailing Szabo (after uneven bars and balance beam) by 0.15 with two events to go, Retton scored perfect 10s on floor exercise and vault—the last event in an especially dramatic fashion, as there had been fears that her knee injury and the subsequent surgery might impair her performance.[15] Retton won the all-around gold medal by 0.05 points, beating Szabo to become first female gymnast from outside Eastern Europe to win the individual all-around gold. She also became the first American woman to be an Olympic all-around champion – an honor she held alone until the ongoing five-peat of American all-around champions (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).

At the same Olympics, Retton won four additional medals: 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." She appeared on a Wheaties box, and became the cereal's first official spokeswoman.

In 1985, Retton won the American Cup all-around competition for the third and final time.[16] She retired in 1986.

Post-gymnastics career[edit]

Political views[edit]

President Ronald Reagan and Retton with the U.S. Olympic Team in Los Angeles, 1984

Retton was an outspoken supporter of the Reagan administration and appeared in a variety of television ads supporting Ronald Reagan as well as appearing at a rally for his reelection campaign just a month after the Olympics in her home state of West Virginia. 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.[17]

Non-sports honors[edit]

Retton's hometown, Fairmont, West Virginia, named a road and a park in the town after her. Having retired from gymnastics after winning an unprecedented third American Cup title in 1985, as noted above, she later had cameo appearances as herself in Scrooged and Naked Gun 33+13: The Final Insult.[18]

In 1985, she received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council member General Chuck Yeager.[19][20]

Retton was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.[21]

In 1993, the Associated Press released results of a sports study[22] in which Retton was statistically tied for first place with fellow Olympian Dorothy Hamill as the most popular athlete in America.[23]

In 1997, Retton was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.[24]

In January 2020, Retton was the first woman inducted into the Houston Sports Hall of Fame.[25]

Compensated endorsements[edit]

During the 1990s, Retton worked as a spokeswoman, appearing in advertisements for the U.S. drugstore chain Revco.[26]

Retton has many commercial endorsements, including bowling and shampoo.[27] She was the first female athlete to be pictured on the front of a Wheaties box, and General Mills stated that Wheaties sales improved after her appearance.[28][29][30] In 2019, Retton became a spokesperson for Australian Dream, a pain relief cream. She is a frequent analyst for televised gymnastics and attended The University of Texas at Austin after the Olympics.[31]

The USA Gymnastics scandal[edit]

Retton was thrust back into the spotlight when the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal hit the news in 2016. When the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017[32] was introduced to the 115th Congress, she and other members of USA Gymnastics met with the bill sponsor, Senator Dianne Feinstein, with the aim of convincing her to drop the bill.[33] Despite these efforts, on February 14, 2018, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 was signed into law and became effective immediately.

Film and TV appearances[edit]

Medical conditions[edit]

Retton was born with hip dysplasia, a condition that her years as a competitive gymnast aggravated. After experiencing increased pain from the condition, she underwent hip replacement surgery on her left hip in her mid-thirties.

Gymnastics legacy[edit]

Retton's routine on the uneven bars included a move that came to be called "The Retton Flip." This consisted of a transition (front flip) from low- to high-bar, resulting in the gymnast perched or "sitting" on top of the high bar. This move, and many others like it, were removed from the Code of Points of artistic gymnastics due to old-style "belly beat" moves having ceased to be used in bars competitions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Mary Lou Retton". Olympedia. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  2. ^ "Mary Lou RETTON - Olympic Gymnastics Artistic - USA". International Olympic Committee. January 13, 2017.
  3. ^ "Amazing Moments in Olympic History- Mary Lou Retton". Team USA. Archived from the original on January 27, 2019.
  4. ^ "Mary Lou Retton". March 26, 2021.
  5. ^ Lewis, Jone Johnson (January 14, 2020). "Biography of Mary Lou Retton, Olympic Gymnastics Champion".
  6. ^ "Mary Lou Retton". United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum. July 21, 2019. Retrieved January 22, 2021.
  7. ^ " Local Search — Boston Globe Archives".
  8. ^ "Mary Lou Retton: Power And Finesse". The New York Times. March 4, 1984. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  9. ^ "Mary Lou Retton: All About Lou". The Christian Broadcasting Network. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  10. ^ "Doing it her way: Mary Lou Retton teaches healthy attitudes to her kids — and, now, the rest of us". Houston Chronicle. July 20, 2008. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
  11. ^ "HBU Huskies – Football Names Shannon Kelley Offensive Assistant Coach". Houston Baptist University. May 11, 2012. Retrieved July 21, 2012.
  12. ^ "Biography". Archived from the original on May 15, 2010. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  13. ^ "Mary Lou Retton Divorces Husband Shannon Kelley After 27 Years of Marriage: 'I Felt Very Alone'". People. October 29, 2018. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  14. ^ "Mary Lou Retton". The Biography Channel. April 2, 2014. Retrieved January 17, 2023.
  15. ^ "Mary Lou beams after sticking her vault to capture the all..." ESPN. June 30, 2004. Retrieved December 15, 2013.
  16. ^ Zaccardi, Nick (March 4, 2016). "Mary Lou Retton Reflects On 1985 American Cup Win, Retirement Decision". NBC Sports. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  17. ^ "Election 2004: Republican Convention Schedule and Viewer's Guide". New York Times. September 1, 2004. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
  18. ^ "Mary Lou Retton". IMDb. Retrieved August 13, 2008.
  19. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  20. ^ "General Chuck Yeager Biography Photo". 1985. Awards Council member General Chuck Yeager presents the American Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award to Olympic gold medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton at the 1985 Banquet of the Golden Plate in Denver, CO.
  21. ^ Mary Lou Retton. National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame,
  22. ^ Wilstein, Steve (May 17, 1993) Retton, Hammill most popular American athletes. Associated Press
  23. ^ Athletes.
  24. ^ "Mary Lou Retton". International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011.
  25. ^ "Houston Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020 - HCHSA | Harris County Houston Sports Authority". February 14, 2020. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  26. ^ "Retton joins with Revco in promotional effort". Chain Drug Review. September 10, 1990.
  27. ^ Niewiaroski, Donna (November 3, 1990). "For Retton, the Gold Still Glitters;Pressure, Time and Change Mature '84 Olympic Gymnastics Champion". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 4, 2013. – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  28. ^ Wheaties Fun Facts.
  29. ^ "Mary Lou Retton Biography". Archived from the original on March 28, 2009. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  30. ^ "Prowess alone won't get an athlete on Wheaties". Associated Press. December 26, 1987. Archived from the original on June 11, 2014. Retrieved July 30, 2013. – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  31. ^ Lewis, Jone. "Retton bio". Archived from the original on August 23, 2008. Retrieved July 30, 2008.
  32. ^ Feinstein, Dianne (February 14, 2018). "Text - S.534 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017".
  33. ^ Macur, Juliet (March 29, 2017). "Facing Congress, Some Sports Officials (Not All) Begin to Confront Sexual Abuse". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  34. ^ "Mary Lou Retton. She's got the gold. Now she's going for platinum." Billboard. October 5, 1985
  35. ^ "Scrooged (1988) – "Cast" credits". IMDb. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  36. ^ Knots Landing: Season 13, Episode 15 "Letting Go" (23 January 1992). IMDb
  37. ^ Baywatch: Season 4, Episode 11 The Child Inside (22 Nov. 1993) . IMDb
  38. ^ An Evening at the Improv: Season 14, Episode 11 (3 February 1994). Amazon.
  39. ^ "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994) – Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  40. ^ Olympic Champion Mary Lou Retton Stars In New PBS Television Series Mary Lou's Flip Flop Shop. December 6, 2010
  41. ^ Season 2, Ep 3: Grilled Cheesus. IMDb
  42. ^ Jones, Nate (February 2, 2014). "Celebrating Every '80s Reference in That RadioShack Super Bowl Commercial". People. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
  43. ^ Murphy, Desiree (September 12, 2018). "'Dancing With the Stars' Season 27 Cast Revealed – Meet the Celebs and Their Pro Partners!". Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved September 12, 2018.

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by Flo Hyman Memorial Award
Succeeded by