Mary Lou Retton – USA – Artistic Gymnastics – Individual All-around – Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games
Prior to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, no American man or woman had won the all-around artistic gymnastics gold medal.
And seldom has an Olympic competitor been roared on by a home crowd quite like Mary Lou Retton in Los Angeles. Every move, pirouette and spin was egged on by the vociferous home support, and she was to need every decibel to help her eclipse the supreme Romanian Ecaterina Szabo.
Szabo was world class, and would leave Los Angeles with four gold medals, but alas none of them was the blue riband all-around event because of the irresistible Retton.
A few months earlier and a freak injury threatened the participation of the girl from Fairmont, West Virginia. After qualifying from the Olympic trials, she sat down to sign autographs for her fans when her knee locked.
The puzzling injury required surgery which needed a three-month recovery, leaving her perilously short of preparation ahead of the first, and biggest, international competition of her career.
However, she recovered and Retton and Szabo put on a stunning show of athleticism and grace for the watching millions.
With two rotations remaining, Szabo held a 0.15pt lead over the American, but Retton nailed a perfect 10 in the floor exercises and needed to repeat the feat in the vault to pip Szabo to gold.
You could hear a pin drop as Retton stood at the end of the runway, knowing that only perfection would grab the United States their first ever gold in the event.
She absolutely floored her landing and sent the watching crowd into raptures as the judges conferred over their award. When the perfect 10 flashed up there was pandemonium in the arena.
She never repeated the dizzy heights of that night in Los Angeles but she had emulated her heroine and inspiration Nadia Comaneci in the most dramatic style possible.