Mary Lou Retton’s preparation for the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games was remarkable. Unbeknownst to all but a few insiders, the teenage gymnastics sensation had arthroscopic surgery just six weeks before the Olympics.
“We did three months of rehabilitation in two weeks,” she said a decade later, looking back at her incredible recovery.
Not to be outdone, Retton’s performance in UCLA’s Pauley Pavalion was even more stunning.
Needing to make up a deficit in the final two events, Retton – who was about to enter her junior year of high school — scored consecutive perfect 10s on the floor exercise and vault to become the first American woman to capture the gold medal in the women’s all-around competition.
“I can’t describe how I felt,” Retton said. “I had goosebumps going up and down me. I knew from the takeoff, I knew from the run – I just knew it.”
Retton was not done, however. A tweak to the scoring system allowed gymnasts to take two attempts and use the higher scoring vault. While she could not improve on the 10 she had scored in her first vault, Retton took the second attempt anyway. She delivered another perfect 10.
“I slept with my medal under my bed that night,” Retton said. “The first thing when I got up in the morning I checked to see if it wasn’t a dream.”
Retton also helped the United States win a silver medal in the team all-around competition and she claimed three more medals in individual events: silver in the vault and bronze in the uneven bars and floor exercise. But it was the back-to-back 10s that made her an overnight superstar. Sports Illustrated named her the Sportswoman of the Year and she graced the cover of the Wheaties cereal box.