40 greatest female athletes: Mary Lou Retton

When she was just 16, Mary Lou Retton delivered a performance at the Olympics that inspired thousands of girls. AP Photo/Lionel Cirroneau

ESPN is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.

Mary Lou Retton was only 16 when she not only captivated the gymnastics world, but also transformed it.

At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the Fairmont, W.Va., native scored two perfect 10s to win gold in the all-around competition. She left the Games with a total of five medals and the darling of the Olympics. She is No. 38 in ESPN's countdown of the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.

"After Mary Lou, we had to create a new type of gymnast who could impress with her sturdiness, energy and the physicality of her performance," Bela Karolyi says.

Her performance inspired future U.S. all-around medalists Shannon Miller, Carly Patterson and Shawn Johnson. Each of those women was at some point labeled The Next Mary Lou.

"It was an honor to be called that," says Johnson, the 2007 world champion and 2008 Olympic all-around silver medalist. "I mean, she's Mary Lou."

Read the complete story from espnW here.

Earlier in this series:

No. 40: Diver Fu Mingxia

No. 39: Jockey Julie Krone