On Tuesday night, the United States Women’s Gymnastics team won gold in a stunning victory at the team all-around competition, finishing a full eight points ahead of silver medal winner Russia.
The team, previously known as the Fierce Five, has dubbed themselves the Final Five – in part because it is in the 2020 games the teams will be limited to just four members, but also because after 40 years in the sport and coaching 11 Olympic teams, Rio is their coach Márta Károlyi’s final act before she retires.
“We always look for her, always,” Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic champion in the all-around, told the New York Times on Tuesday. “Because we couldn’t do any of this without her.”
Despite being known for being tough and unsentimental, Ms. Károlyi has said that the 2016 Rio team, consisting of Madison Kocian, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, and Laurie Hernandez, is the best she has ever coached and was unusually emotional after winning the gold.
“From my nature, I’m really not a sentimental person, honestly,” Károlyi told the New York Times after Tuesday’s win. “I’m known for being very tough. So I felt, ‘Oh, what’s happening to me? What is this?’”
Károlyi started as a coach in Romania, before moving the the United States in 1981. She and Bela, her husband and fellow gymnastics coach, have coached Nadia Comăneci, Mary Lou Retton, Kim Zmeskal, and Kerri Strug, some of the most decorated gymnasts in the world in the 1980s and 90s.
In 2001, she took over as the national team coordinator for the women's team. In this role Károlyi did not just lead the United States to victory time and time again throughout her years as coach, but changed the way gymnasts in America train.
The couple started a gymnastics training camp at their ranch north of Houston. There, she and national team staff would host week-long training sessions once each month to evaluate the top gymnasts in the country. While the gymnasts retained their private coaches for the majority of their training, Károlyi had an eye for picking out the little details that would vastly improve an individual’s performance.
This system the Károlyis created united gymnasts and coaches from across the country and created a sense of community that was not there previously.
“I think the training camps are key,” Aly Raisman, three-time Olympics gold medal winner and team captain told the New York Times. “It’s where we are evaluated and compared to each other, in a healthy way. We wouldn’t be here without that system.”
After her retirement, the US Gymnastics team will still use the ranch as a training center and although neither of the Károlyis will be managing it, Martha admits she will likely stop by from time to time to see how things are going.
“I am incredibly proud of the system that we have created and the success of our women’s program for the past 15 years,” she told USA Today. “It is the right time for Bela and me to enjoy the other things in life while still remaining connected to USA Gymnastics through the ongoing activities at the ranch.”
In retirement, Károlyi plans to return to her native Romania, spending several months there each year.
"We've been working 54 years nonstop," her husband told the Houston Chronicle. "We are both 74 years old. After this, she deserves to have a joyous and smooth and lovely rest of her life."