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

Mary Lou Retton
AP
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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

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
Getty
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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