ATLANTA -- They were separated by several hundred feet, not to mention a dozen years, but brought together by a flood of memories. It wasn't Pauley Pavilion. It wasn't the 1984 Olympics. And it wasn't a silver medal in a watered-down competition.
It was better.
For Mary Lou Retton, the star of the 1984 U.S. team that launched its sport into the American consciousness, it was the thrill of seeing another team do collectively what she had done individually in Los Angeles: win a gold medal. For Bela Karolyi, it was a chance to bow out as an ecstatic cheerleader rather than an angry coach.
"We've waited for this a long time," said Retton, whose perfect 10 at the 1984 Games vaulted her into history.
Retton, who is here broadcasting for a local television station and writing a column in USA Today, had visited with the women's team a few weeks ago at its training camp in Greensboro, N.C.
"I told them to go into the competition confident, even cocky," said Retton. "I told them when they come into the stadium, they should say, 'This is our gym, this is our crowd.' "
Retton was part of that crowd. And when the team walked around the floor in a victory lap, Retton was cheering as loud as anybody. She even had a couple of tears in her eyes.
"Finally," she said.
Karolyi was cheering, too. Reduced to that role by the appointment of his wife, Martha, and Mary Lee Tracy as the team's coaches, Karolyi still managed to get his share of attention.
First he tried to pump up the crowd with his hands. Then he carried an injured Kerri Strug onto the podium for the gold-medal ceremony. And finally he held court a few feet away from the post-competition news conference where, in typical style, he announced his retirement.
"I will not raise another generation of gymnasts," he said.
Karolyi said that yesterday's victory was the highlight of his career, eclipsing what the Romanians and Nadia Comaneci had done in Montreal 20 years ago and what his American team and Retton had done in Los Angeles.
"This is the end of my 35 years in coaching," said Karolyi. "It's a very good way to go out."
Pub Date: 7/24/96