The beauty and peril of gymnastics is the expectation of perfection. Of hitting every single time. Nobody’s perfect right? Oh, except Olympic gymnasts. You can miss a shot in basketball and still win the game, make a poor serve or return in volleyball and still win the game. But not so in gymnastics. Being off even by a centimeter can cost you a medal, cost you your dreams.
And so it was so for McKayla Maroney – both the unrewarded hitting of human perfection and missing it as well. In the team finals, McKayla Maroney performed one of the most spectacular vaults of all time. Superimposed on the same vault as Uchimura (one of the most perfect male gymnasts of all time) was McKayla Maroney’s team vault. It is so much higher than any female gymnast had a right to be, higher than Ushimura’s by far, even though the women’s vault is lower, with perfect form and a stick to boot. A vault that would have earned a perfect 10 in any other gymnastics era, still scored higher than any female vault has in this quad. It was a moment of beauty and perfection. But not of surprise. It is all we expected of McKayla.
Then came the Vault finals. The commentators talked of competing for silver, as it was inevitable that McKayla would win the gold. To all of you that have tuned into gymnastics for the first time since the last Olympics, this may have seemed to be sensationalism by the commentators. But the reality is, that the entire gymnastics community in every country has assumed that IF McKayla made the US team, they would be competing for silver on vault. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she would win the gold.
After all, who could even remember McKayla not performing an incredible vault, much less falling? In today’s world of social media, you have to go all the way back to 2009 to see McKayla fall on vault in practice, warm up or performance. One time in three years. In a time where all of her teammates are as likely to sit down vaults in podium training and warm up as they are to hit them in competition, it is almost unfathomable that McKayla won’t hit vault- in practice, in warm up, in competition. She could do it following a week off for a concussion, she can vault anywhere at any time.
Such dominance and perfection leads us to expect, well perfection. Anything less is a disappointment. And that is exactly what happened to McKayla in Vault Finals. Anything else.
Was it nerves that got to her? We, and probably even she, will never know. McKayla did, for her, a disappointing first vault. She landed in the red and did not achieve her normal level of perfection. So when she went for the second vault, she really wanted to deliver. Did she come in to high? Did she tried to hard to stick? Whatever happened, the unthinkable resulted. McKayla Maroney fell on a vault.
Ahh how the pendulum swings. One vault is the best we had ever seen. The next is sitting on her butt. McKayla Maroney had done the unthinkable. She lost the vault finals.
Maybe it was to remind us that gymnasts are not robots, but they are in fact human. Maybe it was to remind us that nobody, absolutely nobody is perfect. No matter what the reason, the results stand. The best female vaulter of all time (in my and many other”s opinions) would not walk away from the Olympics with a Vault gold.
A fluke of nerves, of tiredness, of trying to achieve perfection? We will never really know. But to those of you just tuning into gymnastics, know that this was a FLUKE. McKayla has not sat down a vault in podium training or warm up that has been shown, or in competition since 2009. In contrast, she has done more perfect vaults, higher, with more perfect form and difficulty than any woman in history. What she did in vault finals was absolutely a fluke.
Sandra Izbasa, who never dreamed she would be competing for a vault gold with Maroney in the mix, laughed often as she received the news of her win, and her medal. We can never know exactly what she was thinking. But I took it like this. LOL! We all know that Maroney is the superior vaulter. Sure, I will take the gold medal today. But is is kind of laughable.
I hope and believe that this “loss” will inspire McKayla to continue on in gymnastics, which will inevitable lead to more great vaulting. Many have looked forward to her introducing the Yurechenko 3/1. I think that will be awesome. But even moreso, I look forward to more beautiful floor routines and inspired interviews from a gymnast who is fast becoming one of my all time favorites – as much for her sincere, spunky, heartfelt interviews as for her out-of-this world vaults.