By Rosalba O’Brien
LONDON, Aug 5 (Reuters) – Athletes who are expected to win gold and come home with silver react in different ways – some put on a brave face, some melt into tears, others seem stoic.
McKayla Maroney looked downright furious.
The American gymnast, fresh from team gold earlier in the week, had been seen as a shoo-in to take the women’s individual vault gold, so difficult and dazzling is her 2-1/2 twisting Amanar, one of the toughest vaults in gymnastics.
Maroney performed it nearly faultlessly in qualifying and her score in the team competition was the highest on any apparatus.
But on the Sunday afternoon final, it all went wrong. The 16-year-old incurred a penalty for stepping out of bounds on her signature vault, and then landed on her bottom after the second vault.
That left her twisting her mouth in anger on the podium as she collected silver, while Romania’s Sandra Izbasa picked up the gold.
“I just wanted to prove to everybody that I can hit two vaults and I could try to do my best for the USA, and that’s what I’m disappointed about, that I trained so hard and just made one mistake,” she said, struggling to blink back tears as she spoke to reporters.
Maroney said that the second Mustafina vault was one that she had been doing for months in training without problems.
“It’s somewhat of a new vault for me but during this whole Olympic time I have not fallen on my butt on that vault,” she said.
She dismissed the idea that the pressure might have been too much, pointing out that she had taken gold at the world championships under the weight of similar expectations.
“It happens, it’s gymnastics, you can’t be perfect,” she said, though the look on her face belied her brave words. “Sometimes things don’t go as you planned but I wouldn’t blame it on anything else … I messed up.”
Maroney, one of the self-styled ‘Fierce Five’ U.S. team who took gold by a healthy margin on Tuesday, said her disappointment was due to her performance rather than not taking gold.
“I mean, it’s gymnastics and it’s just a sport and you have to move on.”