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RETTON RETURNS TO U., THIS TIME AS THE MAIN ATTRACTION

SHARE RETTON RETURNS TO U., THIS TIME AS THE MAIN ATTRACTION

The first time Mary Lou Retton performed at the University of Utah, in the Championships of the USA in 1982, she was a 14-year-old with a skinned nose. She was almost a nobody then, a junior when the crowd came to see the seniors, though gymnastics insiders said Retton and fellow junior Dianne Durham were the ones to watch, already doing more dangerous routines than their older counterparts.

"I was second," she recalls of that Championships of the USA. Durham beat her in the all-around.She and Durham were indignant then. "Juniors got ripped off on everything; we didn't get warmups or T-shirts or anything; we competed at 7 a.m.," Retton says, exaggerating the time. "We were ones to complain," she laughs.

Now, seven light-years later, coming out of retirement at age 21 to perform with her idol, Olga Korbut, 34, in the Gymnastics '89 Tour of Champions, which comes to the Huntsman Center Nov. 11, Retton says she feels like a "great grandma" every time she enters Bela Karolyi's Houston gym to work out.

"They're all new faces," she says of Karolyi's Kids. "It's cute. Everyone watches what I'm doing."

Retton, in Utah Thursday for a press conference supporting the Champions '89 Tour, is confident she's shown Karolyi's proteges "I can still tumble," though she admits having been so stiff she couldn't get out of bed the morning after the first workout.

When she started training again about six weeks ago, the youngsters were timid about approaching Retton, who won the Olympic all-around gold medal in 1984. "If one got up enough nerve, they'd all come," she laughs.

That's probably almost how she'll feel on this Champions Tour.

Retton has never met Korbut, the woman most responsible for making gymnastics popular in America and the woman most responsible for Retton's career. "She was an idol of mine. She sparked my interest in gymnastics," Retton says.

Retton, Korbut and the U. of U.'s Missy Marlowe, whose collegiate season doesn't begin until January, won't throw dangerous international-caliber routines during the exhibition, but Retton says she expects to look good enough that nobody will mind.

Still a part-time college student, Retton continues to travel the country doing motivational speeches and charity events, and she's been a television commentator for several gym events, including the Seoul Olympics. She's engaged to former Texas-Austin quarterback Shannon Kelley. After they're married, she'd like to open her own private gymnastics school.

Oh, the skinned nose? Retton scraped it before the 1982 meet while at the gymnasts' hotel. Everyone was out by the pool, she says, and she dove in, finding out the hard way that it was the shallow end.