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
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 USAGs "Club Gymnastics,"
a national mall tour designed to introduce children to
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.
(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
Many thanks to Talia and Brooke, two students of
Betty Okino's, for emailing me this information.
(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.
(August 17, 2000). Betty now has role on MTV's show Undressed.
(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."
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.
(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.
to Tomas Burgos and Jeff for information contained herein.
. This page was created on April 11, 1999 and last updated on September 10, 2000.