Whatever Happened to
Betty Okino?


Photo by Matthew Barber

Okino's Competitive Results:

1989 American Classic: 4th AA
1989 Konica (Australian) Cup
1990 US Championships: 2nd-AA, 5th UB, 1st BB, 4th FX
1990 Goodwill Games: 2nd T, 4th AA
1990 Joaquim Blume Tournament: 5th AA
1990 Arthur Gander Memorial: 2nd AA
1990 DTB Cup: 3rd T, 2nd AA, 1st UB, BB
1990 Recontre Beaucaire: 2nd T, 1st AA, 2nd UB, 1st BB
1991 Buckeye Classic: 1st T, 3rd AA
1991 American Cup: 1st AA, 1st V, 1st UB
1991 International Mixed Pairs: 4th AA
1991 USA vs. Romania: 2nd T
1991 World Championships: 2nd T, 4th AA, 3rd BB
1992 World Championships: 2nd UB, 8th BB
1992 Olympics: 3rd T, 12th AA, 6th BB

These results were compiled from information found
within the 1991 USA vs. Romania programme and from various
back issues of IG magazine.


Betty and I had the best relationship as teammates! There was never a bitter rivalry. We always wanted each other to do the best, and we pushed each other well in training too...
.
- Kim Zmeskal

Born in Uganda, Africa to a Ugandan father and a Romanian mother, Elizabeth (Betty) Okino was inspired to begin gymnastics by the success of Mary Lou Retton and the 1984 Olympics. Due to the lack of coaches in her area, Betty's mother coached her until her family moved to the state of Illinois, where she trained at Illinois Gymnastics Institute. A successful dancer prior to coming to the sport of gymnastics (Betty and her brother competed as a pair and won many tap dancing competitions), Betty progressed quickly in the sport of gymnastics, beginning at age 9 and turning elite at age 13.

Once turning elite, Betty decided to take the next step toward her Olympic dream and she moved to Houston alone to train with Bela Karolyi. Shortly thereafter, Betty's grandmother came to live with her and help her in her competitive career. Fluent in Romanian, Betty would often tell the other girls what Bela and Marta were saying about them behind their backs. When the Karolyi's eventually learned that Betty could speak Romanian, they switched and began speaking Hungarian to one another! The exact same thing happened at a major international meet, when the Romanian gymnasts were surprised to learn that Betty was fluent in Romanian.

Known as one of the Karolyi "Six Pack," albeit not one of the original "Six Pack," Okino thrived under the tutelage of Karolyi to become a major contender on the international scene in early 1990. At 5' 1" during her competitive career, Betty appeared to tower over the rest of her teammates with her long and elegant lines. She had a different look than most gymnasts, and pioneered many moves such as the triple turn on balance beam.

While Betty seemed to be on the fast track to making the 1992 Olympic team, she fell victim to a number of injuries in 1991 and 1992. Betty not only had to overcome these injuries, but also the disapproval of Bela, who, despite medical opinion to the contrary, publicly voiced his belief that these injuries were "in her head." Despite these obstacles, Betty was able to compete in the 1991 World Championships, where a bit of a scandal occurred. Perhaps downgraded due to her injuries, Betty's UB dismount was very low in difficulty (a C skill at the time). Using a dismount this low would normally have constituted a deduction, except that the value of this dismount was raised, through some politicking, prior to these championships. As Bela had hoped, Betty's unique style and grace overshadowed her lack of difficulty in some areas, earning her high marks from the judges both nationally and internationally.

Despite missing the 1991 and 1992 U.S. Nationals, as well as the 1992 Olympic Trials, Betty's strong international track record helped earn her a spot on the 1992 team. Despite her injuries, which included stress fractures to both the L3 and L4 vertebrae, Betty had a strong showing at the Olympic Games.

Betty retired from competitive gymnastics following the 1992 Olympics. She returned home to Elmhurst, IL to complete high school, and then attended the University of Oklahoma (majoring in broadcast journalism). During this time, Betty did some coaching and performed in a number of gymnastic shows and exhibitions throughout the the USA. In 1996, she participated in USAG’s "Club Gymnastics," a national mall tour designed to introduce children to the sport.

 

Photos used with the expressed permission of David Lovett, webmaster of a site dedicated to the World Rhythm on Ice
shows. Please do not use without permission.

Betty has been a spectator at numerous gymnastics competitions. For example, she was one of several former Olympians spotted in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. Betty was also spotted at the 1998 US Nationals, where she met up with former Karolyi teammate Amy Scherr). A resident of California for several years now, she has also been spotted at many of UCLA's home meets.

Betty moved to California to perform in Sea World's World Rhythm on Ice shows. The photos to your right feature Betty in costume for one of her nightly performances. In addition to her "stage" career, Betty has enjoyed acting in a number of television shows. In September 1999 she guest starred in the WarnerBros. teen show Popular. Previously she appeared in a number of episodes of ABC's now-cancelled show, Push.

Update (December 11, 1999). I recently learned that Betty is coaching at Lyons Gymnastics Academy in Van Nuys, CA. She coaches alongside Chuck Gaylord (brother of 1984 Olympian Mitch Gaylord) and Amy Smith (former NCAA team champion). Many thanks to Talia and Brooke, two students of Betty Okino's, for emailing me this information.

Update (February 13, 2000). Betty is back into show biz, bigger than ever! She now hosts a television show for the Disney Channel called Z-Games (she just completed her first season's work on that show). She also has appeared in several commercials recently, including one for Direct TV with Drew Carey. Drawing on her strong background in dance, she also recently danced on stage with Celion Dion at the Billboard Awards.

Update (August 17, 2000). Betty now has role on MTV's show Undressed.

Update (September 10, 2000). Has Betty's past career as a gymnast influenced her success as an actor? In a recent interview with SportsHollywood, Betty revealed that she sometimes performs a balance beam act during auditions: "I have a little portable one that unfolds that I carry with me. I figure if the audition is going down, I may as well go down on the balance beam."

Betty has additional future plans as well. She is currently filming an episode of The District with Craig T. Nelson. The show is expected to debut in the fall of 2000.

Update (May 20, 2001). One of Betty's latest contributions to SportsHollywood is an editorial entitled, "The Balanced View," her answers to Joan Ryan's charges in the book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes. Betty speaks from the eyes of an athlete, rather than a spectator.

Thanks to Tomas Burgos and Jeff for information contained herein.

. This page was created on April 11, 1999 and last updated on September 10, 2000.

 

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