Mary Lou Retton
AP

Mary Lou Retton reflects on 1985 American Cup win, retirement decision

1 Comment

NEW YORK — Gabby Douglas headlines the AT&T American Cup on Saturday, kicking off a season that she hopes ends in Rio, where she could become the first U.S. Olympic all-around champion to compete in the following Games.

But if Douglas prevails Saturday in Newark, N.J. (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 1 p.m. ET), she will become the second reigning U.S. Olympic all-around champion to win an American Cup.

Recall Mary Lou Retton, who at the Los Angeles 1984 Games became the first U.S. Olympic all-around champion, like Douglas at age 16.

Retton did not retire until 1986. In between, she competed at one more top-level international meet, winning the 1985 American Cup in Indianapolis.

“Winning that meant more to me than anything I think, really, in my career, because even going into the Olympics I was a relatively unknown gymnast, and I wasn’t supposed to win [in Los Angeles],” Retton said Friday. “[Romanian] Ecaterina Szabo was World champion, and she was supposed to win that [Olympic] title. So the pressure was never on me. I was always the underdog. And then going into ’85 American Cup, I was supposed to win. That’s a whole different mindset.”

Retton’s appearance at the 1985 American Cup, where she went for a three-peat at the event, was billed as a bit of a comeback story.

The TV broadcast reported she took five months off from training after the Olympics and returned to the gym for nine weeks before taking the floor at Market Square Arena with coach Bela Karolyi.

In the months after the Olympics, people wondered when Retton would return to competition.

“The American Cup appearance kind of quieted everybody down,” Retton said. “People expected me to win [the 1985 American Cup]. And if I didn’t win, oh gosh, they would have talked about me in bad ways. She’s over and she’s down. Whatever. It was hard. I’m glad that I went and had that experience because I proved to myself that I could still handle that pressure.”

The opportunities that came with winning a gold medal — such as dinners with the president and British royalty — proved too taxing for Retton to compete later in 1985 and she eventually announced her retirement in September 1986.

Retton enrolled at the University of Texas that fall, where she met Shannon Kelley, a Longhorns quarterback and her future husband.

Retton had no second thoughts about retiring with the Seoul 1988 Olympics two years away.

“I was ready,” said Retton, who worked the Seoul Games for NBC. “I knew that I was not going to be one of those athletes that’s just hanging onto the sport and couldn’t retire, couldn’t let it go. I wanted people to remember me as a winner and as a champion and not some struggling older athlete that just can’t let it go. That was important to me.”

She wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of attention that came after Los Angeles 1984.

That’s a key difference Retton sees between herself and 2012 Olympic champions Douglas and Aly Raisman, who both turned professional before the London Games.

The gymnasts of this era are more expecting and better equipped to handle the post-Olympic whirlwind.

Douglas and Raisman are favored to make the five-woman Olympic team for Rio, which will be determined in July.

No U.S. woman has made back-to-back Olympic teams since 1996 and 2000. No Olympic all-around champion has returned to compete in the following Games since Nadia Comaneci in 1980.

“Gabby and Aly, I have deep respect for those two,” Retton said. “How difficult the sport is now and to stay in at such a high level, it’s just so demanding.”

VIDEO: Retton, Patterson, Liukin talk Rio 2016 on TODAY

Nathan Chen, Simone Biles, U.S. women’s soccer team win Team USA Awards

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Simone Biles was named female athlete of the year and Nathan Chen took the corresponding award for men Tuesday at the Team USA Awards in Los Angeles.

Six-time Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, who has taken up wheelchair CrossFit competition since an ATV accident in 2014 left her paralyzed from the waist down, took the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award. She works to help other people with spinal cord injuries through the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and Amy’s Army, which has launched a Wheels for Kids program to help injured children find wheelchairs that may not be covered by insurance.

The show also included a medal ceremony in which the teammates and family of the late Steven Holcomb received silver medals that were reallocated after doping infractions changed the results of the 2014 Olympic bobsled competition.

MORE: Holcomb’s legacy lives on 

Award winners from the ceremony:

Female Olympic athlete of the year: Simone Biles, gymnastics 

Biles took a one-year break after winning four gold medals and a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics, then came back to do even better, unleashing new skills on the balance beam and in the floor exercise. This year, she won five gold medals at the world championships, breaking the record for career medals.

Female Paralympic athlete of the year: Oksana Masters, Para Nordic skiing and Para cycling 

Already an eight-time Paralympic medalist in Nordic skiing, biathlon and rowing, Masters had a breakout year in cycling, taking silver medals in the world championships. In Nordic skiing, Masters took five world championships (three cross-country, two biathlon) and the overall World Cup championship in sitting cross-country along with a second-place overall finish in biathlon.

Male Olympic athlete of the year: Nathan Chen, figure skating 

Chen had a double back-to-back year, winning his second straight world championship and his second straight Grand Prix final. He also started his 2019-20 season by winning both of his Grand Prix events. He and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu are far ahead of any other skaters in posted scores this season.

Male Paralympic athlete of the year: Ben Thompson, Para archery 

Thompson took the world championship and the No. 1 ranking in the men’s compound event and led the U.S. to a world record in the team compound event.

Olympic team of the year: U.S. women’s soccer team 

The team claimed the sport’s biggest prize for the second straight time, working its way through a difficult field that included a quarterfinal matchup with host France to win the World Cup once again, adding to its previous wins in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

Paralympic team of the year: U.S. sled hockey team 

Like the women’s soccer team, the sled hockey team went unbeaten in the world championships and claimed a fourth world title.

MORE: Golden goal clinches championship

Olympic coach of the year: KiSik Lee, archery 

This year, Brady Ellison won a world title and set a world record in the Pan Am Games, and Ellison teamed with Casey Kaufhold to win the world title in the mixed team event, which will be on the Olympic program in 2020.

Paralympic coach of the year: Wesley Johnson, paratriathlon 

The founder and head coach of Balanced Art Multisport in Salt Lake City, Johnson is the personal coach of three top-10 paratriathletes, and he served as an assistant coach in the world championships, where three of the athletes he coached won silver medals.

NBC will have highlights of the show at 2 p.m. ET Dec. 22.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Hanyu, Zagitova control their Grand Prix Final destiny at NHK Trophy; TV, live stream schedule

Getty
Leave a comment

In order to qualify for the Grand Prix Final — after missing the event the past two seasons for varying reasons — two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu needs to finish inside the top four at NHK Trophy, the sixth and last remaining Grand Prix series event. Hanyu competes on home ice in Japan this weekend, and the event is streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.

A full breakdown of Grand Prix Final-clinching scenarios can be found here.

Hanyu won the Grand Prix Final four straight times (2013-16). The prestigious December event would be the first time this season Hanyu and two-time Grand Prix Final champion Nathan Chen would compete head-to-head, outside the world championships in March.

Hanyu trains in Toronto alongside American Jason Brown, who will also be competing in Japan. Brown clinches a spot in the Grand Prix Final if he earns a silver or better, but is also very likely in if he earns a bronze medal.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is in a similar situation this weekend at NHK Trophy, needing to finish on the podium to clinch a berth in the Final. She faces Moscow-based training partner Alena Kostornaia (who needs to finish fifth or better to make the Final) and Japan’s Rika Kihira (must earn a medal of any color), among others such as 2019 European champion Sofia Samodurova of Russia and 2017 U.S. national champion Karen Chen.

MORE: Alina Zagitova focused on artistry, while other Russians push technical boundaries

Three teams in the pairs’ field at NHK Trophy can earn spots in the Grand Prix Final. Two-time world pair champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China and Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov need a medal of any color to clinch, while Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro need silver to clinch, but could win with a bronze and a high score. See the breakdown here for details.

In ice dance, four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are favorites at NHK Trophy. They have appeared in three Grand Prix Finals and own a medal of each color, including a win at their most recent appearance in 2017. (The duo withdrew from a regular-series Grand Prix event last season and were unable to qualify for the Final.)

The most likely NHK Trophy scenario is that Papadakis and Cizeron win NHK Trophy, and Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finish second – and if that happens, Papadakis and Cizeron, Stepanova and Bukin and Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates (currently on the cusp of an entry) all make the Final.

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Thursday 10:30 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Friday 12 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
10 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!