Mary Lou Retton, who became one of the most popular athletes in the country after winning the all-around women’s gymnastics competition at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, has pneumonia and is “fighting for her life” in the intensive care unit, her daughter said in a statement this week.
Retton’s daughter McKenna Lane Kelley said on Instagram that her mother “is not able to breathe on her own” and that she had been in the intensive care unit for more than a week.
Kelley did not share more specific information about her mother’s condition, though she said that her pneumonia was “a very rare form.” It was not clear what hospital Retton was in.
Kelley, who was a gymnast at Louisiana State University, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
At the 1984 Olympics, Retton became the first American woman to win the all-around gold medal or any individual Olympic medal in gymnastics. Going into the final rotation of the competition, she was five-hundredths of a point behind Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo, and the only way she could beat Szabo was to score a perfect 10 on vault.
Retton scored a perfect 10.
She won five medals in Los Angeles, including two silvers, for team and vault, and two bronzes, for uneven bars and floor exercise.
Though there was an asterisk by Retton’s victory in the history books — the Soviet Union, which was the most dominant force in women’s gymnastics at the time, boycotted the 1984 Games — it nonetheless made her a sports hero in the United States. In addition to earning her the traditional trappings of Olympic gold, like appearing on a Wheaties box, she was widely viewed as an inspiration to a new generation of American girls entering gymnastics.
Even as the American gymnastics program grew and the country won more medals, including the team gold in 1996, Retton’s prominence remained: For 20 years, Retton, now 55, was the only American woman to win the all-around title, until Carly Patterson became the second in 2004.
Retton was born in Fairmont, W.Va., and got her start early, like many top gymnasts. By the time Retton was 7 years old, she was training in gymnastics full-time.
Retton’s talent had been apparent from the start, but a big break came at an Olympics elimination tournament in Reno, Nev., in 1982, where she impressed Bela Karolyi, who would go on to coach her in the 1984 Olympics.
“I immediately recognized the tremendous physical potential of this little kid,” Karolyi said in a March 1984 interview.
Retton appeared in a number of films and TV shows in the late 1980s and 1990s, including the comedy film “Scrooged.”
After her athletic career, Retton became a motivational speaker to promote the benefits of proper nutrition and regular exercise.
Maggie Astor contributed reporting.