6 Vintage Photos of Mary Lou Retton

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The first American to win

Mary Lou Retton
Mary Lou Retton (USA) performs on the vault at the 1984 Olympics. © Trevor Jones / Allsport / Getty Images

Mary Lou Retton became one of the most famous names in gymnastics when she won the Olympic all-around title in front of the home crowd in Los Angeles, California in 1984. She was the first American woman to win the all-around gold -- and she did it in exciting fashion.

Retton was in first after the preliminary round of competition in Los Angeles -- leading Romania's Ecaterina Szabo by .15 because Szabo made a major error in her dismount off bars.  On the day of all-around finals, however, Szabo was on fire, recording a 10.0 on beam and a 9.95 on floor, while Retton earned only a 9.80 and a 9.85 on her first two events, bars and beam.

Retton needed to hit the next two events, typically her best, out of the park. She did exactly that, recording a 10.0 on floor, and then another 10.0 on vault -- nailing a layout Tsukahara full, one of the most difficult vaults being done in 1984.

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The boycotted Games

Gymnast Mary Lou Retton competes on vault at the 1984 Olympics
Mary Lou Retton. © Steve Powell / Allsport / Getty Images

Retton earned a 10.0 on her first vault, then promptly went back and earned another perfect mark, ending the competition as if it had been scripted. At 16 and just 4 ft. 9, she was instantly a crowd favorite.

There was an asterisk to her victory, however. In 1984 the Soviet Union and 14 other Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the Olympics, and at that point in time, the USSR had won the last eight Olympic team titles, and their athletes were widely regarded as the best in the sport.

Without the boycott, most doubt that Retton would have won the all-around title, but it didn't dampen her popularity at all.

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She earned the most medals in history, too

Mary Lou Retton
© Trevor Jones / Getty Images

Retton followed up her all-around gold with a silver on vault and bronzes on bars and floor. Including the US team's silver medal, she earned five Olympic medals in all -- the most of any American gymnast up to that point. (Shannon Miller later tied that total in Barcelona in 1992, and Nastia Liukin did it again in 2008.)

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Her lightning-fast climb to the Olympic title

Bela Karolyi with Mary Lou Retton in 1983
Bela Karolyi with Mary Lou Retton in 1983. © Tony Duffy / Getty Images

Mary Lou Retton was coached by Bela and Martha Karolyi during much of her elite career, and during the Olympics. Her rise to the top was meteoric -- she never competed in a world championships at all, and had very little international experience going into the Los Angeles Games.

She did have experience on home soil, however, winning three American Cup titles (1983-85; with one title after the Olympics) and both the US nationals and Olympic Trials in 1984.

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An icon for the ages

Mary Lou Retton (USA) celebrates at the 1984 Olympics. © Allsport / Getty Images

Retton earned a long list of honors after the 1984 Olympics, including Sports Illustrated's “Sportswoman of the Year,” the Associated Press Female Amateur Athlete of the Year, and the Women’s Sports Foundation Athlete of the Year.

She was the first woman to be featured on a Wheaties box. (Since then the Magnificent Seven gymnastics team in 1996, Carly Patterson in 2004, and Nastia Liukin in 2008 have all been on the box.)

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She now has four girls

Mary Lou Retton 2014
© Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Mary Lou Retton married Shannon Kelley in December of 1990 and the couple has four daughters: Shayla (born 1995), McKenna (born 1997), Skyla (born 2000) and Emma (born 2002). The family lives in Houston, Texas.

McKenna Kelley is an accomplished gymnast, and tied for the 2014 Nastia Liukin Cup title in the senior division. She now competes for Louisiana State University.

Retton was born on Jan. 24, 1968 in Fairmont, West Virginia to Lois and Ronnie Retton. She was the youngest of five children. She has both a road and a park named after her in Fairmont.