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U.s. Olympic Festival : Los Angeles--1991 : Memorable Moments

July 10, 1991|MARYANN HUDSON



Mary Lou Retton was 12 when she competed at the Olympic Festival--then called the Sports Festival--in 1981 at Syracuse, N.Y. It was two years before she teamed up with Olympic Coach Bela Karolyi and three years before she would delight the world with her gold medal performance at the 1984 Olympics.

"It was the first time I was really noticed, and it was a turning point for me," Retton said. "There is a lot of press coverage at the Festival, and it gave me the exposure that I lacked."

It was also a bit awe-inspiring. "I remember watching as Ron Galimore, a gymnast I had only seen in magazines, scored the first perfect 10 on the vault," said Retton, who is a spokesperson for this year's Festival. "It was a big thrill for me."

But not as thrilling as her own performance. Going into the final event, the balance beam, Retton was in first place in the all-around competition. But she didn't think she could hold on.

"I was not a good beamer then--I was real inconsistent. And sure enough, I fell off the beam and placed second in the all-around. But our team, the West, won the meet," Retton said.

Beth Pope, who finished ahead of Retton, later trained with her at Karolyi's gym. Pope became national champion but then went on to attend Stanford. Retton went on to the 1984 Olympics to earn the highest honor accorded her sport--the best all-around gymnast in the world.

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