McKayla Maroney: Everything You Need to Know About the Olympic Gymnast

Matthew DickerContributor IIIJuly 24, 2012

McKayla Maroney: Everything You Need to Know About the Olympic Gymnast

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    While most of the attention given to the United States gymnastics team has focused on all-around medal hopefuls Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas, Team USA's best medal chance comes from a competitor with a less widely known name: McKayla Maroney.

    Maroney, at 16 years old, is a talented all-around gymnast, but she earned her spot on the Olympics team due to her talent on the vault.

    Nearly every gymnastics expert has picked her to win gold on the apparatus in London, and a strong performance from the young gymnast will be critical to her team's medal chances.

    Before Maroney attempts to vault into history, here is everything you need to know about the gold medal favorite.

McKayla Has Been a Gymnast Since Before She Was Two Years Old

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    Nearly every elite gymnast gets an early start in the sport, but it's the rare competitor who started at a younger age than McKayla.

    "My mom put me in gymnastics because I had so much energy and I was always running around, so she thought gymnastics might take away some of the insane amounts of energy," says Maroney on her USA Gymnastics profile.

    The Long Beach, California native got her start at the National Gymnastics Training Center in Aliso Viejo, CA, and after spending several years at Gym-Max Academy of Gymnastics in Costa Mesa, CA, moved to her current gym, the All Olympia Gymnastics Center.

    She is coached there by the former Soviet gymnast Arthur Akopian and former Bulgarian Olympian Galina Marinova.

    Maroney competed in her first major tournament in 2009 at the age of 13.

    At the Visa Championships in Dallas, she finished third in the junior division on the vault, and she has been a regular presence in national and international competitions ever since.

McKayla Is the Best Vaulter in the World

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    Maroney has struggled at times in various events, but the one event that has never betrayed her is the vault.

    Maroney won first place in the vault at the 2010 and 2011 Visa Championships, and likely would have done so again in 2012 had she not needed to withdraw from the event due to a concussion.

    She has been just as dominating on the international scene, finishing first in the event at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, the 2010 Pan American Championships and the City of Jesolo Trophy in 2011 and 2012.

    Were it not for her dominating performances on the vault over the past few years, Maroney likely would not have made the Olympic team. She has recognized this fact, saying "That's my talent and that's what I'm best at, and I know I can get to London with the vault."

    After her injury at the 2012 Visa Championships, many wondered if Maroney would be able to recover in time for the Olympics. Maroney won first place at the vault at the Olympic trials, leaving no doubt that she is the best vaulter in the nation and Team USA's best hope at a gold medal in the event.

McKayla Is More Than Just a Vaulter

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    Maroney had a tough time on both the balance beam and the uneven bars at the U.S. Olympic trials, and almost certainly would not have made the team if not for her dominance on the vault.

    But Maroney is much more than just a vaulter, and she has proven her ability to compete at the elite level on multiple apparatuses. 

    At the 2010 Visa Championships, Maroney finished tied for fourth in the floor exercise and third all-around, also earning a seventh-place finish in the balance beam.

    In the following year's tournament, she had similar results, finishing fifth in the floor exercise and seventh on the balance beam but improving to second all-around. 

    She has had similar success internationally. At the 2011 City of Jesolo Trophy, she finished first in the all-around, fourth in the floor exercise and fifth in both the uneven bars and the balance beam. At this year's tournament, she finished sixth in floor exercise and fourth all-around. 

    As good as she is at the vault, it isn't even her favorite event. Her Team USA profile says that she is a fan of the floor exercise, "because it's the only event that you can really express yourself."

McKayla Is Tough as Nails

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    McKayla's injury at the 2012 Visa Championships would have sidelined most gymnasts for months.

    Maroney was back just a few weeks later.

    During warmups, Maroney missed a landing and sustained a concussion and a minor nose fracture.

    Aside from the swelling and bruises, she also experienced dizziness and struggled with mental acuity tests.

    She wasn't able to train for a whole week during the two weeks between the event and the Olympic trials, and because of the qualification rules she was required to compete in the trials if she hoped to make the Olympic team.

    Showing no sign of her recent struggles, Maroney scored a 15.925 on the vault at the Olympic trials, the highest score of the night by any gymnast in any event, earning her way onto the Olympic team.

McKayla Could Make History at the Olympics

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    Since the Olympics began awarding medals in women's individual gymnastics events in 1952, no American woman has ever won a gold medal in the vault.

    Only two American women have ever earned any type of medal in the event: Mary Lou Retton and Annia Hatch each won silver in 1984 and 2004, respectively.

    American men haven't been much more successful—the last American male to win gold on the vault was Frank Kriz in 1924.

    Maroney has tough competition in her path to make history. 2008 silver medalist Oksana Chusovitina of Germany will compete in her sixth Olympiad, and she is looking to avenge her second-place finish to Maroney at the 2011 World Championships.

    Yamilet Pena of the Dominican Republic could be a surprise winner. She is capable of completing a handspring double front vault, the most difficult vault move there is. She has had trouble landing the move in international competitions, but if she successfully attempts it in London, she could be hard to beat.

    It will not be an easy path to the gold medal for Maroney, but if she vaults as well as she has in recent international competitions, she will end up making gymnastics history.