Mary Lou — not a gymnastics pioneer?

Mary Lou Retton

Mary Lou Retton

International Gymnast columnist Ward Black disagrees with Mary Lou Retton’s claim that she’s an American gymnastics “pioneer.” Retton made this statement while being interviewed at last weekend’s American Cup.

In fairness to Retton, she also told [NBC’s Andrea] Joyce that her 1984 Olympic all-around victory “helped open the door” to the future (and current) success of the U.S. women’s national team and program … Which is 100 percent absolutely correct.

However, Retton grossly overstates her self importance claiming to be a “pioneer.” Why? Because, to me, that is a very public and ignorant statement which is a slap in the face to our true pioneers of American gymnastics.

I think Retton just misspoke … And given that, let us clarify some of those people, and their gymnastics accomplishments, who helped to build that yellow brick road of gold which Retton walked on to help bank her lifetime of endorsement monies.

An old coach of mine used to declare the old phrase — “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” And that is Retton. Retton was a superbly prepared gymnast by two of the world’s best coaches — the Karolyis — entering the 1984 boycotted Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games. That’s all. She hit. She won.

Black goes on to list a few people he thinks are true “pioneers” in American gymnastics — among them, Bill “The Chief” Roetzheim, Glenn Sundby, Herb Vogel, Charlie Pond and Vannie Edwards.

While I agree with Black that Retton isn’t exactly a gymnastics pioneer in the way the above coaches were, I’m not sure you can compare trainers to athletes and say that one’s a pioneer while the other’s not.

So Mary Lou didn’t invent the twisting belt (that’s not to say that Pond, who did, is undeserving of credit). But she did usher in “powerhouse gymnastics” and establish it as a style at a time when the standard was being set by underfed Soviets. Many — Kim Zmeskal, Elena Produnova and Shawn Johnson instantly come to mind — have followed in her wake. The Karolyis were the visionaries, but it was their athletes — including Mary Lou — who put them on TV. Indeed, the Karolyis and other coaches who have coached athletes that have brought something special to competitions have been given a good amount of coverage (think about Liang Chow or Valeri Liukin).

Furthermore, it’s easy to misspeak in TV interviews like the one Retton did with Joyce, where you’re put on the spot and asked none-too-intelligent questions for the sake of associating a famous person with the event for a viewing audience that probably doesn’t know too much about the sport (or so NBC seems to assume).

Give Retton a break. She was the first individual U.S. Olympic Champion. She won her title in extremely dramatic fashion. She deserves a lot of accolades. And it could be argued that her gymnastics helped pioneer a style still used successfully by Olympic gold medalists.

In these terms, I guess Nadia wasn’t a pioneer either — she was just a Karolyi robot who happened to stick her landings.

What do you think?

4 Responses to “Mary Lou — not a gymnastics pioneer?”

  1. mimi Says:

    I agree, doing an interview means you can’t edit your words as carefully as you would otherwise. However, that aside, Retton may be a little self-important, who knows.

  2. ambrosia Says:

    Who COULD do a good interview with Andrea Joyce? She asked insipid, leading questions and makes a habit out of trying to humiliate the athletes. I hope she gets canned.

  3. Corinne Says:

    very true, ambrosia. im not a big fan of elfi schlagel as well as andrea joyce. [if you have ever read my blog, i make that clear. lol] andrea asks the stupidest questions which i assume is her trying to be an “award-winning” jornalist asking “tough questions” or something. idk. she knows nothing about gymnastics, or interviewing people. lol

  4. Ryan Says:

    At least Elfi’s been a gymnast in the past and understands how it is to be a competitor, but some journalist come up with the stupidest questions and have no idea what it is to be out there, i mean not an expectator.

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