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Mary Lou Retton recalls 'surreal' feeling of watching daughter's last NCAA gymnastics routine

The Olympic legend talked about being a proud mom watching her daughter's triumphant final NCAA performance, and also weighed in on the scandal that's devastated USA Gymnastics.
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/ Source: TODAY

She’s a chip off the old block.

Olympic gold medalist gymnast Mary Lou Retton and her daughter McKenna Kelley made headlines last weekend when Retton was spotted cheering on Kelley while the Louisiana State University senior performed the final floor routine at the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships. The showing reminded many fans of her mother’s tour de force accomplishment during the 1984 Olympics.

The performance earned Kelley a score of 9.95, as LSU finished second. On Thursday, mother and daughter stopped by TODAY to talk about their experiences.

McKenna Kelley, left, and her mom, Mary Lou Retton, at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
McKenna Kelley, left, and her mom, Mary Lou Retton, at the 1984 Summer Olympics.AP

“I don’t think I understood the enormity of what she did and the groundbreaking gymnastics that she did at the time,” Kelley said about following in her mother’s footsteps. “To me, she’s just Mom.”

Retton — who (perhaps in a moment of motherly pride) said Kelley’s performance topped hers — was still basking in the glory of her daughter's achievement.

“It was just such a moment. It was a surreal moment. Should’ve been a 10!” she said.

The 51-year-old said she was never an overbearing sports parent, but she did relay an amusing story from when her daughter was doing cartwheels as a child.

“She was practicing a roundoff and that’s when you bring your feet together and I was saying, ‘Oh, that’s so good, but why don’t you get your feet together quicker?’" Retton recalled. "She looked at me, she goes, ‘What do you know?’"

Kelley has decided to close this chapter of her life, ending her gymnastics career on this high note.

Retton and Kelley had a good time talking about their love of gymnastics.
Retton and Kelley had a good time talking about their love of gymnastics.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

“I feel so at peace. I feel so at peace,” she said. “I don’t think another year of gymnastics could give me anything I needed more.”

Retton also opened up about the problems plaguing USA Gymnastics, which has been rocked with the scandal involving former team doctor Larry Nassar, who is now in prison for molesting young girls.

“It’s a beautiful sport filled with beautiful people and the spotlight’s going to a monster. And it’s a problem. I don’t have the solution," she said.

While Retton may not have any answers, she does think it's imperative to eliminate a climate of fear for all girls involved in the sport.

“They absolutely need to start at the ground level and build back up,” she said. "A culture of acceptance, a culture of safety. These girls have to feel safe.”