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Mary Lou Retton wins all-Around competition

DAY 7 / FRIDAY, AUG. 3, 1984

She becomes the first American female gymnast to win an individual Olympic medal, the first to win a gold medal and the first to win the all-around.

August 03, 2009|Lauren Goldman

The big news

Mary Lou Retton, 16, entered the final round of the women's gymnastics all-around competition. As she walked to the vault, Retton was .050 of a point behind Romania's Ecaterina Szabo, meaning she needed a 9.95 to tie or a perfect score to win. After sticking her dismount, Retton smiled from ear to ear because she knew that she had done it. Receiving her score of 10, Retton won the all-around competition and became the first American female gymnast to win an individual Olympic medal, the first to win a gold medal and the first to win the all-around.

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The big surprise

While world record-holder Michael Gross of West Germany concentrated on his battle with those on either side of his Lane 4 during the 200-meter butterfly, Jon Sieben of Australia pulled off an upset from Lane 6. With a time of 1:57.04, Sieben barely broke Gross' world record of 1:57.05. The craziest part is that as of that morning, Sieben's personal best time had been 2:01.17. He turned in a 1:59.63 for his best time ever during that morning's preliminary heats to qualify fifth for the finals. No one thought it was possible for him, or anyone for that matter, to take four seconds off his time in one day.

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Update

Two weekends ago, Retton walked into the Coliseum for the first time since 1984 and instantly grew nostalgic. She remembered living the Olympic dream at the opening ceremonies. Now living in Houston with her husband and four daughters, Retton continues to travel the country as a motivational speaker and uses her Olympic experience as precious material. Retton's memories from living at the USC Olympic Village have stuck with her, and she remembers that even though there was a language barrier, she felt as if they could all understand one other because "everybody had this respect for one another for even making it" to the Olympics. Retton thinks that the 1984 Olympics were one of the best and that it was a wonderful time in which athletes competed "strictly for the love of our sport and to be able to represent the country."

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From the archives

"She's 4 feet 9 inches tall, and about 3 feet 7 of it is eyes. They're big and dark and have these incredibly long lashes. When she has them wide open, you can't see the rest of her. She's 94 pounds. Her heart weighs about 65 of them. She's America's tomboy, everybody's kid sister."

-- Jim Murray writing in the Aug. 3 Los Angeles Times on Mary Lou Retton

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Spotlight on

Winning her second individual gold medal of the week, Tracy Caulkins swam the 200-meter individual medley in record time. Although she fell almost a second short of the world record, Caulkins set an Olympic record with a time of 2:12.64.

-- Lauren Goldman

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On latimes.com: 1984 Summer Games revisited

Photos from the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics and how some of the athletes look today, on our website.

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