Games Changers: Olympic Stars of Yesterday

A before-and-after look at the American heroes who framed some of our proudest memories

by Mike Hammer • Next Avenue
mary lou retton image
Photograph: © 2012 International Olympic Committee

They are historical icons, living monuments to U.S. Olympic excellence, prowess and will. Each represents a landmark not only on the fields of play but in our personal connection to the Olympic experience.

Many of us began watching the Games because Mark Spitz’s swimming dominance provided some distraction from the atrocities committed against the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972.
 
Some of us were inspired to greatness in our own lives by the talent and determination of an American Marine named Leon Spinks, who lifted himself out of the ghetto to Olympic glory in Montreal in '76.

But their stories didn't stop there. In the years since standing on the medal platform, the seven athletes below have followed paths as divergent as the sports they competed in. Here’s a look at how things have played out since they were Lords of the Rings.

Mary Lou Retton, Gymnastics
Los Angeles (1984)

 
Olympic Experience: Just 16 years old and 4'9" when she stepped onto the mat at the L.A. Games, Retton walked away as America’s darling. Bouncing back from a devastating knee injury with grueling rehab work and training, she won five medals, including the All-Around Gold — a first for an American woman.

Epilogue: A devout Christian conservative, Retton was an outspoken supporter of the Reagan administration in the 1980s. She scored another victory when she became the first woman to appear on a box of Wheaties in 1984. She’s also been a motivational speaker, sports commentator and corporate spokesperson. Retton's passion for acting has landed her roles in films (Scrooged, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult) and on TV (Baywatch, Glee)

Click here for more games changers on Next Avenue

Next: Synchronized Swimming, An Olympic Sport Fiftysomethings Should Try

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