SSOMG realized today that among the first 10 sports stories, we had not included anything about a female athlete. It is time to fix that. Although it may seem an oversight, keep in mind that during my generation, the sports scene was dominated by male athletes. There were few sports at the professional level that even had women leagues or teams or opportunities for individuals.
The Olympics made for a wonderful exception to this rule. In the Olympics, women were always well represented and almost all sports including, track and field and gymnastics and basketball, etc., had women individuals and team events.
1984 was special, certainly if you were living in California. The Summer Olympics, certainly the largest sporting event in the world was coming to Los Angeles. As a side note, though all the other countries in the world were sending teams to Los Angeles, Russia was not. I don’t remember the political issues at that time, but the impact was noticeable, as the Russians were always very well represented in the medal-count when it was all done.
Now I don’t know about you, but it would certainly wake me up if I came downstairs to breakfast in the morning and found myself staring at my picture on the front of the Wheaties box. At 16 years old, that is exactly what Mary Lou Retton was faced with the morning after she won the women’s all-around gymnastics Gold Medal.
Needing to make up a deficit in the final two events, Retton – who was about to enter her junior year of high school, scored perfect 10’s on the floor exercise and vault to become the first non- Eastern-European woman to capture the all-around Gold. Mary Lou had somehow found the courage and strength to excel to the highest level, even after undergoing knee surgery just 5 weeks earlier. After coming from behind, she had won by just 0.05…the narrowest of margins. Her performance on national and world-wide TV made her one of the most popular women athletes of all-time, not to mention the first female spokesperson for Wheaties, the breakfast of champions.
All of this Olympic excitement made me, and the rest of the United States instant gymnastics fans. Although years before, Cathy Rigby had ignited the popularity of women’s gymnastics, Mary Lou’s performance brought the dream home to a new generation of American girls.
Maybe not a Joe Montana touchdown or a Cody Bellinger home run, or a Magic Johnson 3-pointer, but a pretty darn exciting moment and an amazing performance for a 16-year old girl from West Virginia. We loved Mary Lou Retton.