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Cathy Rigby

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Cathy Rigby

Cathy Rigby in 1971

© Tony Duffy / Getty Images
Cathy Rigby became the first American woman to win a world medal, when she won a silver on beam at the 1970 World Championships. She is credited with helping the sport to gain popularity in the US in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Gymnastics Career:

Rigby qualified to the American Olympic teams for both the 1968 Games in Mexico City and the 1972 Games in Munich, Germany. Her biggest achievement, though was the silver medal she won on beam at the 1970 worlds. The 15-year-old pigtailed gymnast was the first American event finalist at a worlds (Linda Metheny qualified to the beam event finals at the Olympics in 1968), and ended up in second. She mounted with a press to handstand and completed one-arm front and back walkovers -- skills that were considered very difficult at that time. She also had elements of style in her beam set that are still very cool.

Watch her medal-winning routine from 1970, and be sure to check out her front kick that slides into a split at :38.

An American Icon:

According to Biography.com during her career Rigby won 12 international medals, eight of them gold, and was named one of America's Most Influential Women in Sports by ABC's Wide World of Sports.

Rigby was the face of USA Gymnastics during that era. One Sports Illustrated piece about the 1973 US nationals says that the competition was "to line up finalists for the world meet coming in October, and to select a successor to Cathy Rigby..."

Rigby was coached by Bud Marquette, the founder of Southern California Acro Team (SCATS), a gymnastics club in Orange County, California. He told Sports Illustrated in 1972, "I never had anyone like her, and I guess I'll never find another one, either. She is the typical little American girl. A nice, clean kid. The American ideal. Something like Shirley Temple." He also said, in the same piece, "Absolutely anybody could have made of Cathy what she is today."

Rigby appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine, and was on The Johnny Carson Show, among many other appearances.

Struggles with Eating Disorders:

Rigby fought both anorexia and bulimia and was hospitalized twice during her 12-year battle against the diseases. She now gives talks about the warning signs and risk factors of eating disorders, as well as her recovery.

Acting Career:

Rigby retired from gymnastics after the 1972 Olympics, and took up acting. Her best-known role has been Peter in Peter Pan. She played Peter on Broadway in the early '90s, and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1991. Watch Cathy Rigby perform as Peter Pan.

Personal Info:

Cathy Rigby was born December 12, 1952 in Los Alamitos, California, to Anita and Paul Rigby. She has two older siblings (Steve and Michelle), and two younger ones (Jeff and Jill). She was born two months early, and only weighed four pounds at birth. She also suffered from severe bronchitis and pneumonia as a child, and her mother told Sports Illustrated, "We almost lost her several times."

She didn't start gymnastics until about age 12, when she took a trampoline class and was talented enough that the coach suggested she go to Marquette's gym. Rigby's father later built a balance beam for her in their backyard, and purchased a set of uneven bars as well.

Rigby is now married to Tom McCoy, and has four children: Bucky, Ryan, Theresa, and Kaitlin.

Gymnastics Results:

International:
  • 1972 Olympics: 4th team; 10th all-around
  • 1971 Riga Cup: 3rd all-around; 3rd bars; 1st beam
  • 1971 World Cup: 1st all-around; 1st vault; 1st bars; 1st beam; 1st floor
  • 1970 World Championships: 2nd beam
  • 1968 Olympics: 6th team; 16th all-around
National:
  • 1972 US Nationals: 1st all-around; 1st bars; 3rd beam; 2nd floor
  • 1970 US Nationals: 1st all-around

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