When Jordyn Wieber — reigning gymnastics world champion and favorite to win it all at the Olympics — failed to qualify for the overall individual finals, she cried. When McKayla Maroney — the favorite to win gold in the vault competition — botched a landing, bumping her down to a silver medal, she smoldered. She was pissed off. She didn’t cry from the disappointment. Her anger at herself for missing the landing was palpable. This is why she’s my favorite 2012 American Olympian (also because of the unintentional comedy, explained below).
You could feel Maroney’s competitive nature from the other side of the television. Her deathly glower reminded me of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant — two guys that would (probably) knife their mothers (in a non-lethal way) to win a game of checkers. That killer instinct and that competitiveness caused some journalists to accuse Maroney of being unsportsmanlike at an event that’s supposed to be a global gathering centered around sportsmanship. Look at the clip below, for example.
That’s Maroney shunning a hug from Russian gymnast Maria Paseka, the winner of the bronze medal. On the surface, it looked like Maroney was about to say, “Bitch, get the f*ck off me.” I don’t think it was a case of her being a poor sport. I think she was so stunned by and angry at her failure that she was unable to process anything else. Along with extreme competitiveness, another trait many high-level athletes have is the ability to focus to an extraordinary degree. Unfortunately, that can lead to awkward moments like what happened in the video above and the picture below.
As time passed and the medal ceremony began, Maroney was still thinking about her missed landing. She knew that she was the best vaulter at the Olympics. There’s a reason why many people think that the Amanar vault (named after multi-medal winning gymnast Simona Amanar) should be renamed the Maroney. Normally, she does it better than anyone else that ever lived. Like Chris Jericho, she is the best in the world at what she does…on most days. Even though she didn’t have it when it mattered most in 2012, I love that her competitive nature has her staring down gold medalist Sandra Raluca Izbasa with a look that says, “That’s my god damned medal!”
Even when the attention was on her for winning the silver — a remarkable accomplishment — you could tell that she was completely dissatisfied with and incredulous about what transpired that day. Like Ricky Bobby, she believes, “You’re either first, or you’re last!” I just love her attitude! I’m sure that “only” winning the silver will take her training to a new level and she will attack the 2016 Olympics with a fiery determination. She’ll only be 20 then and (barring an unexpected pubescent growth spurt) she’ll be back with a vengeance!
So yeah, McKayla Maroney didn’t win the gold and some sports writers have accused her of being bratty, but she also won the hearts of many fans that like their athletes to have an irrational sense of competitiveness. And in case you were wondering (I know some of you were), she turns 18 on December 9, 2013 (not that it’s marked on my calendar or anything). Go Team McKayla!!!