All-around gems

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United States' Simone Biles bites gold medal after winning women's individual all-around final.

WHEN YOU WIN an Olympic all-around title, your life changes. Presidents ask you to stop by. Oprah used to try to book you, but now Ellen does. Madison Avenue wants to put you on billboards and cereal boxes.

Simone Biles, a native of Spring, Texas, became the fourth consecutive American to win an all-around gold - something no country had ever done. The Soviet Union once won three in a row, the last two by Olympic legend Larisa Latynina in 1956 and 1960.

Here is a look at the young women who became the apples of our national eye by capturing the most coveted prize in their sport:

1984: Mary Lou Retton

Age when golden: 16.

Age today: 48.

Notable: Retton became the first woman outside of the Eastern Bloc to win the all-around gold since the competition first began in 1952 . . . The Soviet Union, which dominated the 1983 World Gymnastics Championships, boycotted the 1984 Olympics . . . Romanians Ecaterina Szabo and Simona Pauca won silver and bronze, respectively. American Julianne McNamara placed fourth . . . Retton scored perfect 10s in the final two events - vault and floor exercise - to win the gold by five-hundredths of a point . . . The 4-9 Retton was the shortest member of the U.S. Olympic contingent . . . Coached by Bela Karolyi, who helped Nadia Comaneci become a worldwide sensation at the 1976 Montreal Games . . . Retton won a gold, two silvers and two bronzes at the '84 Games and was the first woman to appear on a box of Wheaties.

Today: Married with four children - all daughters. Lives in Houston and is a motivational speaker.

Quoting: "I guarantee that there is no gymnast in this world who could (do) what she did at the end," her coach said that night. "Under these conditions, you have to have the psychological strength. To end with two perfect 10s is unbelievable. Nadia was a great champion. Mary Lou is bigger."

2004: Carly Patterson

Age when golden: 16.

Age today: 28.

Notable: Won silver at the World Championships in 2003 despite missing the '03 U.S. Nationals with a broken elbow . . . The U.S. women's team failed to win any medals at the 2000 games in Sydney. Bela Karolyi was replaced by his wife, Martha, as the U.S. team coordinator. Also, the Olympic team was chosen by a committee rather than relying solely on the U.S. Trials . . . Russian Svetlana Khorkina won the silver medal and China's Zhang Nan took bronze . . . Patterson clinched gold by posting the highest score (9.712) in the floor exercise. Russia protested the result in writing to the IOC . . . The Olympics were Patterson's final major competition. She officially retired in 2006 because of a severe back injury . . . Was nicknamed "Snarly."

Today: Married and has become a professional singer. As a teenager, she aspired to be a dental hygienist following gymnastics.

Quoting: At the news conference afterward, angry runner-up Khorkina declared herself "Olympic Champion," which angered Patterson's coach Yevgeny Marchenko. "She is a great gymnast, but Carly Patterson is the Olympic champion," he fumed. "This is 2004. It is Carly's night. She shouldn't have had to listen to that."

2008: Nastia Liukin

Age when golden: 18.

Age today: 26.

Notable: Born in Moscow, her family immigrated to the United States following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her father and coach, Valeri Liukin, won two gold medals for the Soviets at the 1988 Seoul Games and just missed a third in the all-around by one-tenth of a point. Nastia's mother, Anna Kotchneva, also was a world-class gymnast. She dusted off one of dad's gold medals and placed it in Nastia's bedroom ahead of the 2008 Games for inspiration . . . Teammate Shawn Johnson took second and China's Yang Yilin won the bronze. It was the first time Americans had won 1-2.

Today: Working as an analyst for NBC during the gymnastics competition . . . Graduated from New York University in May with a bachelor's degree in sports management . . . Engaged to Matt Lombardi, a former hockey player at Boston College . . . Was a 2015 contestant of ABC's Dancing with the Stars.

Quoting: "It's amazing, knowing how close he was to winning the all-around, losing by a tenth," Liukin said afterward, recalling her father. "I was thinking on the podium that I made up for that."

2012: Gabby Douglas

Age when golden: 16.

Age today: 20.

Notable: Was the first African-American to win all-around gold . . . Had the top score in the vault and balance beam and never trailed throughout the final competition after placing third in the preliminaries . . . Upset defending world champion Jordyn Wieber at the U.S. Trials to grab the only guaranteed Olympic roster spot . . . Was 14 when she left her home in Virginia Beach to train with U.S. coach Liang Chow in Iowa. Douglas wanted Liang to be her coach after watching him work with 2008 silver medalist Shawn Johnson . . . Born on New Year's Eve, 1995.

Today: Still competing. Douglas was part of the U.S. team that defended its all-around Olympic gold in Rio in 2016. She likely finished her Olympic career by placing seventh in the uneven bars.

Quoting: Douglas, in 2012, was battling a case of nerves, which was not helped by having a muscle strain in her leg when the U.S. team arrived in London for the Olympics. That's when Liang delivered a pep talk, according to Douglas. "He said, 'You're at the Olympics, and (you must) put that behind you. And, if you don't push it now, you don't have a chance. You'll regret it.' "

2016: Simone Biles

Age: 19

Notable: Won the all-around individual gold on Thursday. Coupled with her three consecutive wins at the World Championships from 2013-15, many are calling Biles the greatest gymnast of all time . . . Biles had the highest scores in vault, beam and floor exercise to easily win the gold. Teammate Aly Raisman won silver, and Russia's Aliya Mustafina was third. Raisman finished tied for third at the 2012 games, but did not receive a bronze because of a scoring tiebreaker . . . Biles became the first U.S. woman ever to win three gold medals in a single Olympics when she won the vault Sunday.

Today: She'll have the chance for one more when she competes in the finals of the floor exercise on Tuesday (1:47 p.m.). She took bronze on the balance beam on Monday.

Quoting: After she clinched the individual gold, the normally bubbly Biles finally let go of her emotions and sobbed tears of joy. "Because I knew I had finally done it," she explained. "Every emotion hit me at once, so it was just kind of a train wreck."

Remembering Kerri

Kerri Strug never won an individual all-around gold, but she became one of the most legendary competitors ever when she helped the Americans win its first-ever team all-around at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Strug heroically stuck her second vault despite a badly injured left ankle, and the image of her being carried to the medals podium by coach Bela Karolyi is one of the most iconic in U.S. women's gymnastics history.


barkowe@phillynews.com

@EdBarkowitz