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

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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

Weekend Gymnastics Roundup: Carey and McCusker on World Cup podium

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World medalists Jade Carey and Riley McCusker headlined gymnastics action over the weekend as the World Cup circuit continued with an all-around competition in Birmingham, England, and an apparatus event in Doha, Qatar.

Carey won both the vault and floor events in Doha, pushing her to the top of the standings on both apparatus (she also won the vault and floor competitions the previous weekend at the World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan).

Doha marked the halfway point of apparatus World Cups, putting Carey in a promising position to qualify for the Tokyo Games heading into the next four events. The apparatus World Cup series includes a total of eight competitions spread over two seasons, and one gymnast per apparatus will qualify for the Olympics based on his or her top three results across the eight events.

Carey, 18, was the 2017 world silver medalist on vault and floor. But she opted not to try for a spot on the 2018 World Championships team due to the International Gymnastics Federation’s rules that active team members who help their countries qualify team spots for Tokyo (as the U.S. women did in November) cannot earn individual spots. Carey, an apparatus specialist rather than an all-around gymnast, chose the World Cup route to keep open her options of qualifying individually.

McCusker, who was part of the U.S. team that won the world title last year, finished second at the all-around World Cup in Birmingham, posting the top scores on the uneven bars and floor. Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, a seven-time Olympic medalist, won the event. Mustafina bounced back from a shaky showing last weekend at the World Cup in Stuttgart, where she finished fifth in an event won by Simone Biles. Mustafina, 24, is trying to qualify for her third Olympics after giving birth to daughter Alisa in June 2017.

The all-around World Cup circuit continues on April 7 in Tokyo, Japan, where two-time world all-around medalist Morgan Hurd and two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak are expected to compete.

First Olympic women’s aerials champion Cheryazova dies at 50

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MOSCOW — Lina Cheryazova, the first woman to win an Olympic aerials skiing gold medal, has died. She was 50.

Officials in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, where Cheryazova was living for the last two decades, said she died “following a lengthy illness,” without giving further details.

Competing for Uzbekistan, Cheryazova won gold with a triple flip when aerials skiing debuted on the Olympic program in 1994 in Lillehammer.

Shortly after winning, she learned her mother died three weeks before.

Cheryazova’s career was derailed later that year when she suffered a serious head injury while training in the United States, and spent days in a coma. She retired after failing to qualify for the 1998 Winter Olympics.