US Olympic Gymnastics Team 2012: Why McKayla Maroney Will Be X-Factor in Games

Robin JutkiewiczCorrespondent IIIJuly 7, 2012

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 8: McKayla Maroney gets ready to compete on the balance beam during the Senior Women's competition on day two of the Visa Championships at Chaifetz Arena on June 8, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

With the start of the 2012 Olympics less than three weeks away, the stars are rising over the likes of U.S. gymnasts Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber. But it's their teammate McKayla Maroney who is the dark horse that can make or break gold for Team USA in London.

Maroney emerged early in the gymnastics season as a vaulting phenomenon. Her Amanar (round-off on to the table with 2.5 twists to a blind landing) gives fans chills and causes judges to pause. She sticks the landing more often than not and can be trusted to post huge numbers for her effort. In the judging biz, the adage of “don’t blink or you'll miss it,” is especially true when it comes to Maroney.

Yet, a 16-plus vault score is no longer acceptable when remaining events lag behind the majority of elites competing today. The U.S. needs more from Maroney and at the Olympic Trials a week ago, she delivered.

Not known for her balance beam work, Maroney has been working tirelessly to improve her skill set and manage her jitter demons in a short amount of time. Naturally, U.S. coach Marta Karolyi noticed the growth Maroney has made since the 2012 Visa Championships.

With fewer balance checks, more successful connections and better general form and demeanor, Maroney added nearly one-half point to her score.

The same routine, three weeks apart are below. 

U.S. Visa Championships, June 8, 2012 

U.S. Olympic Trials, July 1, 2012

If this wasn't enough, Maroney proved her psychological constitution after a major wipeout while warming up on floor at the Visa Championships that forced her out of the competition due to a nose fracture and concussion.

Perhaps sitting alone on a gurney en route to the hospital gave Maroney a wakeup call. She got to feel what it is like to be left outside the door of history. Maybe the fear of never getting to walk through that door gave her the motivation to push forward on a mission to contribute—to belong.

Whatever has sparked Maroney to life, we hope she keeps pushing until she stands on the golden side of the door in London.