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05 Aug 1984
Los Angeles 1984

Szabo bounces back from Retton defeat

Ask a knowledgeable sports fan who was the most successful performer at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and they may understandably point to American sprinter Carl Lewis.

Lewis did indeed reach heights that few others ever have in the Games, but the diminutive Romanian gymnast Ecaterina Szabo eclipsed even him.

Szabo had had an extremely disciplined gymnastics upbringing under the stern tutelage of coach Bela Karolyi, and the intense regime started to pay dividends at the 1983 worlds in Budapest when she won gold in the floor exercises.

A series of fine performances in the trials and pre-Games warm-up events marked her as the red-hot favourite for the all-around title.

However she missed out on the blue riband event in Los Angeles after an inspired performance from home favourite Mary Lou Retton.

The fact she was able to hit back after such a gut-wrenching defeat said it all about the determined way she had trained and focused on her sport’s biggest event.

Retton brought the house down at the Pauley Pavilion in downtown LA when with two perfect 10s in the final events she came from behind to edge Szabo by just 0.05 of as point.

The loss was a devastating blow, but the 17-year-old Szabo used it as the inspiration she needed to tear through the remainder of the competition.

She took gold in the vault from Retton before sharing the top step of the podium with team-mate Simona Pauca in the beam after both scored 19.8.

Szabo was under the ultimate pressure of needing to score a perfect 10 in the floor exercises to stave off a victory for American Julianne McNamara.

She wowed the judges with a performance of effortless grace and poise to card the required score and clinch another gold medal.

She and team mates Pauca, Lavinia Agache, Laura Cutina, Cristina Grigoras, Mihaela Stanulet and Anca Zotta won the team gold by just under a point.

She started the Games with a morale-sapping blow to her confidence but bounced back in incredible fashion. Four golds and a silver marked her out as one of the all-time Olympic greats.

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