image of mary lou retton on the gymnastics floor

A Conversation with Mary Lou Retton





mary lou rettonWhat are your most vivid memories from the 1984 Olympics?

Marching in Opening Ceremony was a highlight! Seeing the entire stadium wearing the red, white & blue…they were on their feet cheering for us! What a moment. Also, standing on the podium when awarded my all-around gold medal. I remember the U.S. flag rising, the national anthem playing, my hand on my heart singing the great words of that song—one of the proudest moments of my life. And probably the most personal moment was when I came down from the vault podium, just having scored a perfect 10 to secure my all-around gold. I ran into Bela’s arms, he lifted me up in the air and said to me, “YOU ARE THE OLYMPIC CHAMPION!” That was a surreal moment in time.

The museum will feature an interactive exhibit that will simulate Opening Ceremony.  What are your memories of walking into the historic LA Coliseum?

Walking into Opening Ceremony was incredible. Since the USA was the host country, we were the last delegation to walk in. There was a long delay because earlier in the ceremonies, thousands of balloons we were let go that caused a delay (due to a signal interference) for the TV audience.  It’s seemed like we were never going to be allowed to go in, but when we did—-WOW!! It’s really hard to describe the emotions I was feeling.  I had such pride as an American with a big USA on my uniform. I had a sense of relief that I had finally done it—I was an Olympian. The Coliseum roared, you could feel the crowd pounding their feet, cheering us on. Signs for us were everywhere and it was so loud you could barely hear yourself think and I knew I had made it!

What would you like visitors to take away from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum?

That dreams can happen, they can come true. I’m a coal miner’s daughter from a small town in West Virginia who was told my whole life that my Olympic dream was “crazy thinking.” I tell young people not let other people put limits on you; if you have a deep desire and passion for something and you BELIEVE in yourself, you can achieve it. You just be willing to make the sacrifices to make it happen.

You are the mother of four very active daughters.  Can you tell us a little about them and their athletic achievements?   As an Olympic gold medalist, what is it like to watch your own children compete in sports?

My oldest Shayla, 21, is a junior at Baylor and won a National Championship for Acro/Tumbling (a new sport within USA Gymnastics). She was a level 10 gymnast. McKenna, 19, is a freshman at LSU on the very dynamic gymnastics team. Skyla, 15 is a competitive cheerleader and my youngest, Emma, 13, is a level 10 gymnast (possible elite).

I’m very busy traveling the country supporting and watching them. I’m so very blessed and grateful. I’m just a nervous mom like most watching their kids compete!

You are the youngest inductee in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.  What does that mean to you?

I’m very proud being the youngest inductee. I want museum visitors to understand how hard we athletes work and sacrifice to represent our country. And I want people to take away “how proud and how great it is to be an American!”

About the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum offers an immersive and universally accessible look into the journey of Team USA’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Through interactive exhibits, innovative displays, and a comprehensive artifact collection, the Museum instills the Olympic values of excellence, friendship, and respect, as well as the Paralympic values of determination, equality, inspiration, and courage in every visitor. It honors yesterday’s legends with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame while inspiring tomorrow’s legends through entertaining activities and events. The USOPM is more than a museum but a life-changing experience that will continue to educate and inspire the public to take part for generations to come.

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