A week before the final Olympic women's gymnastic trials in Long Beach, Calif., Bud Marquette, coach of the Southern California Acro Team—or SCATs—whose best and most publicized member is Cathy Rigby, received an anonymous letter.
It read in part: "PLEASE quit cramming Rigby down our throats! To you, she is your baby, to us, she is just another gymnast—nothing more. You have built her up so——big, it is getting to be pretty ridiculous....
"We, as a group...are planning a trip to Long Beach, but for God's sake don't ruin our trip by making the competition a one-deal thing—namely, Rigby. Remember, there IS Metheny, Pierce and Chace. Where does that leave Rigby...? It would be too bad if she broke a leg, etc.—what would you do then...? Rigby is a smart aleck. She can't even speak to people anymore. You have made her that way.... You should teach your team (what team?)...respect for other people. They walk out on the floor and think they can take over any piece of equipment....
"As far as we are concerned, Metheny will be (and is) No. 1—but, with the politics involved, I imagine Rigby has already been nominated.
August 20, 1972
"We will be there—and watching. Maybe Rigby will break her big toe—oh, too bad."
—A group of FED-UPS
Last March, Cathy Rigby won the semi-final Olympic Trials at Terre Haute, Ind., beating Linda Metheny, a 25-year-old veteran of two Olympics. Last May, in the finals at Long Beach, she fell during her dismount in the compulsory bar exercises on the second day of competition. As usual, she stalled her straddle on the high bar longer than anybody else, but this time too long. Her toe slipped under the bar and she fell 7½ feet headfirst. The spotter, who was on his knees instead of standing ready to catch, was able to put a hand on her and save her neck. Cathy had never fallen on her dismount before. Instead of 9.8 points she received 8.3 and lost her lead to Linda.
On the third day she made up points in each event, regaining the lead on the beam when Linda lost her balance. Then, in the floor exercises, the last event of the day, Cathy started out with an Arabian, a half-turned front flip. "When I landed, I heard something pop in my ankle," she says. "It didn't hurt right away, but I felt weak, I couldn't really push." When the event was over, she was still in first place by one-tenth of a point. She limped off the floor and was taken to a hospital where X rays revealed she had pulled the ligaments in her right ankle. She could not compete on the fourth and final day. Roxanne Pierce won the trials, Metheny was second, Kim Chace third. After deliberating, the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Committee decided that Rigby would be one of the six regular members on the Olympic team. One week after the trials, she was training again.
Bud Marquette likes to say about Cathy, "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."
Cathy's palms are calloused from working out on the bars. She picks at the calluses and she bites her nails. "I can't wear rings," she says, "because my hands are so ugly."
"She sucked her thumb until she was 11," says her mother.
Cathy Rigby falls asleep on airplanes and jerks in her seat. "I dream about my routines," she says, "and I guess I jerk when I fall."
Ostensibly, Cathy has not been allowed to date until after the Olympics, but this week she disclosed her engagement to Tommy Mason, 33, the former All-Pro running back who now plays for the Washington Redskins. "I met him two years ago," Cathy says. "We hardly ever went out. We always had dinner at home with my parents. I thought Bud didn't know, and I was afraid to tell him."
"I've known about it for nearly a year," says Marquette. "The other day we had a real good daughter-daddy talk and I said, you have to bring it out into the open, but it can't interfere with your training. Since we had that talk her workouts have been out of sight."
Cathy will not see Mason again until after the Olympics. "He's in training camp," she says, "and he has a 10 o'clock curfew, too."
In June, 1971, Cathy graduated from high school where she had a B average. She briefly attended Long Beach City College. "If you go to school you have to get up so early," she says.
When she was a child, her parents wanted her to play the piano. "I was supposed to practice one hour a day," she says, "but I could never sit still for that."
Cathy Rigby trains eight hours a day, seven days a week. Because of her total commitment to gymnastics, her "great control over mind and body," as one teammate puts it, and her lack of fear—complemented by the coordination without which no one should ever try a flip-flop—she has, at age 19, become the finest female gymnast in the U.S. Four years ago, at the Mexico City Olympics, she was suspected of being merely the mascot of the American team; she is 4'11". At Munich she will be a contender in two of the four women's events and America's No. 1 hope for an individual gold medal on the beam or the bars or both. "In 1968, it was all fun and games," says Cathy, who placed 16th in the all-around. "This time it's serious business."
Cathy is the third child of Anita Rigby, who is Cathy's size, and Paul Rigby, who is 6'1". Cathy was born two months prematurely on Dec. 12, 1952. At birth she weighed four pounds. She had collapsed lungs, and during the first five years of her life she was often critically ill with bronchitis and pneumonia. "We almost lost her several times," says her mother, "but she always came back. Cathy and I are very close and a lot alike. I don't admit defeat in anything, and neither does she."
Cathy roller-skated when she was 18 months old. At five she wanted to ride a bicycle but could not stay on. "She fell off all the time," says Mrs. Rigby, "but she never gave up."
When the SCATs compete away from home, Cathy's teammates like to go to a movie on the eve of the competition. She prefers to watch television in her hotel room and eat candy. She likes Milk Duds and M & M's.
"Cathy has a list of things she wants to do after Munich," says Mrs. Rigby. "She wants to go skiing and horseback riding, and she wants to make a quilt."
"After the Olympics I might try skydiving," says Cathy. "That would really scare me. They would probably have to push me out of the plane, and I would hope they'd push me. You know Bud would already have told everybody, 'She can do it.' "
Marquette frequently talks with amazement of Cathy's lack of fear. "When she does a trick," he says, "she never stops halfway. She always follows through. I could tell her to jump out of a fifth-floor window, and she would do it. Of course, she would expect me to be there to catch her."
Cathy Rigby weighs between 89 and 93 pounds. Her measurements are 32-23-31. She has 17" thighs. She wears a size three junior petite. Marquette calls her "Peanut" or "Shrimp."
"He doesn't want me to grow up," says Cathy.
"It changes the center of gravity," says Marquette, "and she may never regain her former sense of balance. Cathy still looks the way she did nine years ago when she joined the SCATs."
If Cathy Rigby had to write a composition entitled "What Gymnastics Means to Me," it would read like this: "Gymnastics has been my whole life. The best of it is that it has kept me from being bored. It has helped me set goals for myself and become a better person. Because I have to discipline myself and go down to the gym every day, I am happy with myself. It also helps me to do something for other people—for my coach and my family. I can make them be happy with me. I am getting an education out of it, just by being able to see what goes on in other countries, instead of reading about it. Because of gymnastics I am probably, right now, living the best part of my life. I don't think I will ever get a chance again to do as much as I do now."
However, she never had to write such a composition, which is the penalty imposed by Marquette upon any SCAT "who breaks the contract."
Marquette has set up such obvious rules as "no alcoholic beverages" and "no smoking," but the contract also includes a 10:30 p.m. curfew which is sometimes hard to observe. Therefore, he makes a point of calling up parents at night to make sure their daughters are home. "There is never any trouble with Cathy," he says.
Journalists have called Cathy Rigby "Pixie," "Kewpie doll" and "Barbie doll," much to her embarrassment. Still, since her blonde hair began to darken, she has dyed it regularly "to keep up the image" she says. "I would like to let my hair grow, but Bud wouldn't let me." Long hair is frowned upon by gymnastics judges. Cathy keeps her pigtails pinned back and fastened so tightly with ribbons that she gets headaches.
Cathy used to be a specialist on the balance beam. Now she is just as proficient on the uneven bars. In the floor exercises and side-horse vaulting, where taller women have an advantage, she is working on new, difficult moves to compensate for her lack of height.
"I think that Beer Barrel Polka music she has chosen for her floor ex is dreadful," one coach said recently. "It will be a flop in Europe. It's just too cute." Rigby points out that Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia, who won four gold I medals in 1968, did her floor exercises to the Mexican Hat Dance. "The Mexicans loved it," she says, "so I thought the Germans would like a polka."
In Munich, Rigby's competition will be East Germany's Karin Janz and Erika Zuchold and Russia's Ludmila Turishcheva and Tamara Lazakovitch.
In the 1970 World Games at Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, Rigby won the first medal ever by an American woman, a silver on the beam. She beat Janz in that event and also Turishcheva who became all-around world champion. Cathy has won in Tokyo, Johannesburg and London. Last spring she competed against Russian and Czechoslovakian teams in Riga and won the beam over Lazakovitch. She also placed third in both the bars and the all-around.
Recently, Linda Metheny was quoted as saying, "I beat Cathy every time we competed before the 1968 Olympics, and two out of three since then. Her coach wouldn't let her compete against me, except when he thought I was ill or injured."
Last April, at the conclusion of the AAU championships in Billings, Mont., a group of high school girls presented Rigby with a ceramic poodle and a greeting card which read: "Cathy, best of luck in Munich! We can't believe you really came to Billings because nothing this great has ever happened." She had not even won. Metheny had beaten her for the all-around title by two-tenths of a point.
A week later Cathy appeared on the cover of LIFE. Since 1968 she has been on just about every TV show from What's My Line to Johnny Carson to Dick Cavett. European newspapers have displayed her on their front pages and called her "one in a million."
In Tuscola, Ill., Linda Metheny's hometown, people wonder why she has never been paid that kind of attention. After all, Linda tied for fourth on the beam in Mexico City and has won the AAU championships five times.
"Cathy Rigby has her own publicity agent and a personal public relations committee," explained the local News-Gazette's sports editor recently. He was wrong on both counts.
Linda and Cathy have not often met in AAU championships because Marquette has been fighting the AAU for many years and frequently boycotts its meets. In 1962 he and some other coaches formed the U.S. Gymnastics Federation. It is now the governing body of gymnastics, and the USGF championships, not the AAUs, are the true nationals. One week after Billings, Cathy won the USGF all-around title in Statesboro, Ga. Linda did not compete.
Among the things fans do to express their admiration, one strikes Cathy as particularly silly. "That is when they have me sign their hands," she says. "It's the weirdest thing and kind of embarrassing and so silly since you wash it off anyway."
At Mexico City, Cathy was so mobbed by autograph hunters that she tried to disguise herself by wearing her mother's clothes. It didn't work.
The day after her loss at the AAU meet, Cathy and Marquette had a talk.
Marquette: "I know you feel bad. You think about all the time and hard work you put in and you may wonder why you do it. It's all part of the game. Now we go home and we just have to work harder."
Rigby: "Where do we fit it in?"
Marquette: "We've got to do something with that vault."
Rigby: "Maybe just a harder run and put the board back."
Marquette: "I just don't want you to feel bad. It's not your fault."
Rigby: "There's not much you can do about it."
Marquette (kissing her cheek): "I don't want you to feel bad."
Rigby: "I don't feel bad."
Marquette: "It's nothing. The one we are thinking about is the Russian, Turishcheva."
"When Cathy came to me in 1963," says Marquette, "she came in shorts and bare feet. She looked just like a ragamuffin. All she could do was cartwheels. In about two months she was better than girls who had been training for two years. She never fooled around. She would have excelled no matter what."
"Cathy finally got over her bouts with pneumonia," says Mrs. Rigby, "and from the age of five she was a healthy child. She was so goldarned active. Always on top of the refrigerator. Even when she fell, she would just climb back up again. There were many times when she cracked her head open, and we were forever rushing her to the emergency room at the hospital. I think she is so fearless because I never believed in giving my children anything to worry about. I never said, 'Don't do that, you'll get hurt.' "
"Absolutely anybody could have made of Cathy what she is today," says Marquette.
If Marquette had to write a composition entitled, "What Gymnastics Means to Me," he would probably start: "Gymnastics is my whole hobby. I also work in my spare time." A little man who likes to describe himself as "rotund," he manages to look amused and worried at the same time. He refuses to reveal his age, but it is about 53. He grew up in Rochester, Pa., a small town near Pittsburgh, in the traditions of German immigrant sects and the local Turners. He considers himself a spiritual descendant of Turnvater Jahn (Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who revived gymnastics in Germany in 1806 and is known as the father of the sport). Marquette worked in steel mills, taught gymnastics and competed. "I was national champion sometime in the '30s," he says obscurely. In 1956 Marquette was an assistant Olympic women's coach.
When he returned from Melbourne, he stopped in Long Beach to visit friends. There he discovered that people were swimming in the ocean in the middle of winter. Back in Rochester, he surprised his wife Ethel and his three children by announcing, "We're shoveling coal and snow, and they're swimming out there. I'm going!" Ethel objected, but not as much as relatives who. were outraged when the Marquettes sold their 134-year-old house. Now Marquette holds an eight-hour-a-day job as a maintenance supervisor at the Long Beach library. He also coaches every day.
Cathy Rigby joined the Brownies and started ballet lessons when she was eight. One day in 1964 she asked her father to take her to a trampoline class. Paul Rigby had got used to refrigerator climbing and jumping off swings, but he was impressed when he watched Cathy on the trampoline. "On the very first night she was doing backflips!" he says. Not long after, the tumbling coach told him to take her to Marquette.
"Cathy used to aggravate the whole family," says Mrs. Rigby. "When she got into an argument, she would keep repeating back what one said. Her sister Mitchie was much taller, yet, when they had lights, Cathy would always be the last one to hit back.
"She was her grandfather's favorite grandchild. They would go on long walks together. When I wanted to spank her, my father would put his hands over her bottom."
Marquette started his club 10 years ago and decided to coach only girls because, "Boys have so much going for them in sports—football, baseball, basketball. Girls are always put down."
"I envy Marquette," says Armando Vega, a former Olympian and now men's gymnastics coach at LSU. "If I could start it all over again, I would become a girls' coach also. Girls are much more rewarding because they are fanatics."
"I would say that girls are very adaptive toward regimentation," says Marquette's assistant, Doug Mead, "but you have to know how far you can go. Bud's tactics are to hit them hard and then lay off."
"When Cathy pushes her chin forward and puts on that little bulldog face," says Marquette, "I know I have to leave her alone."
A friend recently asked Rigby what she likes to do most during her spare time. "Just sitting without having anything to do," she answered, "and not having to talk."
Every year Marquette and the SCATs travel around the U.S. or Europe, putting on shows, much like the Ice Capades, for donations. "Last year we covered 14,000 miles in the U.S.," says Marquette. "We were in 38 cities. Every night they performed in a big arena or in some little dinky place on all kinds of equipment. They are pros."
During her travels Rigby sees little more than gyms. "I can tell you about every gym in the world," she says. "There are also a lot of castles in Europe. Every town seems to have one, and they all look alike." When the SCATs were in Edinburgh, they visited a tomb at the castle. Cathy lay down on it. In Switzerland, at a wax museum, she slipped under the rope and posed with the statues.
Cathy commutes between her home in Los Alamitos and the gym in Long Beach in a white-and-blue Pinto. She lives in a burgundy-colored house with her parents, one brother, a sister, a dog, a gopher snake, an alligator named Beauregard Frump, a desert tortoise and a monkey. There was once a duckling which drowned in a bucket of water where Cathy had left it while she was at school. "I didn't know ducks couldn't swim that long," she says.
Every afternoon at four o'clock Cathy rushes home from the gym for two hours to prepare dinner for the family. One reason for this is that she loves to cook, another is that her mother has been partially paralyzed for 21 years. Anita Rigby contracted polio while she was pregnant with her second child. She could not walk for many years, and even today needs crutches.
Two and a half years ago Mr. Rigby lost his job as an aeronautical engineer in a general layoff at Douglas, and his wife became the main breadwinner for the family, which included five children. She made $110 a week as a material analyst at Douglas, while her husband helped out by working as a truck driver and a bartender.
Cathy Rigby never had much spending money, and she never dared ask for more than a couple of dollars when she left on trips. She made money baby-sitting and saved her $3 per diem so she could buy Christmas presents. One year she returned from Japan with a 36-piece china set for her parents. She hand-carried it so that it would not break. Paul Rigby was hired by North American last April.
Cathy likes reading short stories. The only novel she has ever read is The Godfather. "I read mostly Psycho-type stories with endings that I don't expect," she says. Her favorite TV show is Twilight Zone. She used to enjoy monster movies but now finds them too unrealistic. "Now I like scary movies, like Wait Until Dark," she says. She prefers folk music over rock, but currently her favorite song is Roberta Flack's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. "I'm sentimental," she says.
"She sells herself short on her scholastic ability," says Mrs. Rigby. "She has read a lot of mythology."
Cathy gets fan mail and phone calls every day. Recently, her mother answered the phone and was asked by a young man in Texas, "Would Cathy answer me if I wrote to her?"
"She is able to keep her mind free of worries," says Doug Mead. "She doesn't get upset if she is given a lower score than she deserves." "I have my next event to worry about," says Cathy. "I feel they have underscored me as often as they have overscored me."
"She does not show happiness or sadness," says Mrs. Rigby. "She is not an extrovert and has trouble expressing herself. You can only tell how she feels by looking at her eyes. [Her eyes are brown though she is often described as a blue-eyed blonde.] The SCATs used to have a clown act in their exhibition shows. One year Cathy was put in it, but you could tell she didn't like it. So they had to take her out of it."
Mrs. Rigby says the happiest day in her daughter's life was when she won the silver medal at the World Games. "She sent us a cable," Mrs. Rigby says. "It read, "Have won second place on beam, the silver medal for the U.S. and you.' "
Unlike many of her teammates, Cathy Rigby does not travel with a mascot in her tote bag. "Bud has a little doll that looks like a preacher," she says. "He shows it to me every time before I compete. But I feel the more you practice, the luckier you get."
"Cathy can do 50 beam routines before big audiences and never fall," says Marquette. However, if she did fall, he would not be there to see it. He has not watched a beam event since she became known as a beam specialist. "I don't enjoy that particular event," he says. "One fall and all that work down the drain. It makes me go tutti-frutti."
In 1968 Mr. and Mrs. Rigby traveled to Mexico City to watch Cathy in the Olympics. Mrs. Rigby had to be carried by her husband and an usher to her seat. "I cried all through the bar routine," she says. "I knew she wouldn't do her sommie, because she had nothing going, and she didn't do it."
During the past nine years gymnastics has been a way of life for the Rigbys. At first the piano was sold to raise money for a set of uneven bars. Then Mr. Rigby built a balance beam which still stands under the willow tree in the backyard. The shelves in the living-room bar gradually collected trophies, rather than liquor bottles. Cathy's older sister, Mitchie, became a gymnast and married a gymnastics coach. When her younger sister, Jill, was still a baby, she slept on a mat at the gym while Mrs. Rigby watched Cathy's workouts. "Growing up in a gym, she had to become a gymnast, too," says Mrs. Rigby, "but I would prefer it if she was in another sport. In gymnastics she'll always be Cathy's sister." Now 10, Jill has joined the Mini SCATs. Only Cathy's brothers Steve and Jeff resisted the trend. Steve played baseball, and Jeff runs track.
"Gymnastics has made Cathy a considerate person," says Mrs. Rigby. "No matter how tired she is, she will always sign autographs. But she hates people who don't say 'please' and 'thank you.' "
There are times when Cathy Rigby thinks about her financial future, but not too seriously. Two months ago she started a savings account with a $60 deposit. She now has a balance of $3. "They are charging mc 50¢ for overactivity," she says.
Marquette likes to tell his SCATs, "We only live for today. There may be no tomorrow." "He wants us to realize," says Cathy, "that this is the happiest time in our lives. Afterward we'll have 50 years left to do all the things we can't do now."
Following the AAU meet, Marquette received a letter from George Lewis, a gymnastics coach in Seattle. It read in part: "We have known each other for many years, but for the first time I think I understand some of your thinking.... I now feel you have built up Cathy a great young lady, not just for Cathy or Bud but for the prestige of the U.S.A. You know that all this hard work could go down the tube with thoughtless judges or an extra risk at a meet.
"Please give my deep regards to Cathy for her great understanding of her coach and her patience. This is a remarkable thing for a young lady to have."