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Biofile Mary Lou Retton Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: 1984 Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics.

DOB: January 24, 1968 In: Fairmont, West Virginia

Childhood Heroes: Nadia Comaneci – my gymnastics idol. Larry Bird. Babe Didriksen – I remembner reading about her. Unreal. Joe Montana.

Nicknames: Tiny. Shorty. Shrimp Lou. Lulu. Panda Bear. Boo Boo.

Hobbies/Interests: Cook, read, dance, rollerblade, any sports.

Early Gymnastics Memory: First competition. Parkersburg, WV. This is after watching Nadia at the ’76 Olympics. She scored all the perfect 10s. The scoreboard couldn’t put a 10. They only had three digits when she got her 10. It was 1.00. I’m eight years old. I’m on the uneven bars. Pretty small for my age, if you can imagine that [laughs]. But coach spotted me through the whole routine. Every time a coach touches you it’s points off. Had a few falls, not a really shining example of a great bar routine. Finished it, score came up. 1.00. Running around the gym saying, ‘I got a 10! I got a 10! Just like Nadia!’ And my poor coach had to break it to me that it really wasn’t a 10 like Nadia. It was a 1! So that’s a real clear memory [laughs].

Pre-Competition Feeling: Very nervous. We would work out in just a warm-up leotard that we’d change because we’d get all sweaty. Changing in the back. Putting our number on the back. Always visualize the routine. In gymnastics we have so many different events that we have to do. And different things in each event. So I was big on visualization. Trying to calm myself down. Talk to myself a lot. I’m a big talker. Kind of pump myself up. Not to psyche myself out. That kind of thing. Always moving to stay loose. Pacing back and forth. Jumping up and down. Anything to calm nerves.

Greatest Sports Moment: Winning the Olympics Games 1984. No question about it. Just the pinnacle of my athletic success. When I had to score the perfect ten to win the gold medal. The all-around competition came down to the last event. And I was neck and neck with this Romanian Katarina Szabo. And she had finished her last routine – even bars – and score a 9.9. Great routine. Very high score. She’s waving to the crowd [Retton imitates this, smiling triumphantly], like she’s done it. Like she’s got the gold medal. Well, I still had to do the vault, which is my best event. And I knew that I had scored 10s on that vault before. You go to the Olympics, World Championships, Super Bow, whatever, everybody is physically on the same playing field. Everybody’s talented, everybody’s the best in the world. It’s all mental at that point. Performing when you have to perform, when you’re under the pressure that you’re under. Luckily, I performed better under pressure. I really do. I’m just a stubborn person [laughs]. Where if a person goes, ‘You can’t do it!’ (I say) ‘Buddy, I’m gonna show you I can do it!’ It motivates me even more. I needed the 10 to get the told medal. I knew I had to be perfect. And I knew I had to stick the landing, as we say in gymnastics lingo. After the vault was the defining moment when they flashed… a real 10 [laughs]! It was a real 10. It wasn’t a 1 this time. It was a real 10!

Most Painful Moment: Six weeks prior to that whole scenario I explained, winning the Olympic medal. Standing up for my exhibition – we had to travel around with my coach Bela Karolji – he was conducting summer camps all over the country. The Olympics were six weeks away. We had to continue our training attempts, we couldn’t stop. (In Louisville) I went to stand up and my knee had locked. I had surgery. I had to have surgery six weeks before. That was probably the most painful and devastating moment of my whole career. I had gone to the USA Championships and placed first place. We had just gotten back two weeks earlier from Olympic Trials. I’m going, I’mg going! I’m going to the Olympics. Then this had to happen. Having doctors in Richmond, VA say, ‘You just can’t do it. You need six weeks just to rehab. Let alone start doing all the tumbling and landing that you have to do in your sport.’ Having all the naysayers and overcoming that. I came out a much stronger person out of the whole ordeal. It was horrible.

Favorite Movie: Rocky. Favorite all time movie. The real one, the first one. Titanic – unreal. Apollo 13. Terms Of Endearment.

Musical Tastes: Whitney Houston. Mariah Carey. Gloria Estefan. R&B. Not rap but Luther Vandross. Love Luther. Any top 40.

Favorite TV Shows: Love TLC, The Learning Channel. ER. ER is date night with my husband. Will & Grace. Ally McBeal.

Favorite Meal: Like healthy meal? Iced tea for drink. Baked potato dry. Grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. And pizza is my favorite junk food.

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: Wheaties [laughs]. (This interview was conducted at a Wheaties press conference in New York City.)

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: Butter pecan.

Favorite Athletes To Watch: I’d have to say baseball. We’re Houston Astros season ticket holders. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Drew Bledsoe. Troy Aikman. Joe Montana. Shaq. Hakeen Olajuwon. Charles Barkley – just a colorful person. He wears his heart right there on his sleeve. Pete Sampras. Fantastic. Not only number one for six years but he’s a good person. He stands for something good. I like that. Tiger Woods.

People Qualities Most Admired: Good qualities that I like to see would be good moral values, that stand for something. And don’t change their mind. And the moral ethic part is very important to me. I grew up in a very strong Christian family and we were taught right from wrong, values and morals. And it seems like in today’s society, everything’s okay. Everything’s okay. And it scares me raising four kids in the 21st Century. But I’ll do the best that I can.

First Job: Motivational speaking [laughs]. Age 16.

First Car: 1984 red Corvette [laughs].

(Artwork by LeRoy Neiman.)

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