McKayla Maroney: Why US Olympic Women's Gymnastics Star Must Return in 2016

Matthew Dicker@@MattDickerContributor IIIAugust 3, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31:  Mc Kayla Maroney of the United States of America celebrates her performance on the vault in the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team final on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Prior to the commencement of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the International Olympic Committee told scoreboard manufacturer Omega that there was no need for the company to add a fourth digit to the scoreboards, since a perfect score of 10.00 was theoretically impossible.

Nadia Comaneci then went on to post seven perfect scores, including the first in Olympic history.

Until changes by the International Gymnastics Federation in 2006 dispensed with the "Perfect 10" in favor of a Byzantine sliding scale, the awarding of perfect scores offered thrilling and memorable moments in Olympic history. It's a shame the "Perfect 10" is gone, because McKayla Maroney would be a threat to earn one every time she steps up to vault.

Since the number of gymnasts each team could bring to the Olympics was reduced from seven to five, teams have favored all-around gymnasts capable of excelling in multiple events. Maroney's vaulting ability is so devastating, however, that Team USA couldn't bear to leave her off the team, despite the fact that she would compete on no other apparatuses in the team event. Alicia Sacramone was Maroney's only competition at the Olympic trials, and Maroney topped her combined two-vault score by 0.825. 

Maroney rewarded her team's faith in her by earning a score of 16.233 in the team event, 0.267 higher than the score posted by Gabby Douglas, the second-highest on the apparatus, and 0.4 higher than her nearest non-American competitor, Russia's Viktoria Komova.

Maroney is expected to cruise to a gold medal in the individual vault in Sunday's competition. She would have to stumble badly to give any of her teammates a chance to best her and would have to practically miss the table altogether to give one of her international opponents the opportunity for gold. Her dominance over her competitors is so great that the question that begs to be asked is whether she could return as her team's vault specialist at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Recent history is not on her side. No American female gymnast has competed at two Olympiads since Amy Chow and Dominique Dawes returned to the 2000 Olympics after starring on the 1996 team. Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, two of the most talented gymnasts in American history, both failed in their attempts to make the 2012 team, despite being only 20 and 22, respectively (Maroney will be 20 at the time of the Rio Games).

Absurdly, Maroney's age will likely work against her in four years. The last non-teenager to win gold in the vault was Karin Buttner-Janz of East Germany, who was 20 years old when she won gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics. 

Yet Maroney has hope. Though she fell short of gold, Oksana Chusovitina of Germany was 33 years old when she won the silver in the vault at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 16 years after her Olympic debut. Chusovitina lost to gold-medal-winner Hong Un Jong of North Korea by only 0.075 points, despite the fact that Hong was 14 years her junior.

Maroney will face tough competition from some of the budding stars of the United States gymnastics program. Simone Biles posted scores of 15.800 and 16.000 in the juniors division of the 2012 Visa National Championships and Lexie Priessman wasn't far behind with scores of 15.700 and 15.650. Like Maroney, Biles is a bit of a vault specialist. Priessman, however, is the best young all-around gymnast in the country, so Team USA wouldn't have to use a spot on the team for only a single apparatus if it selects her.

If Maroney chooses to spend the next four years of her life training for the 2016 Rio Olympics, she has a real chance of being the first American female gymnast invited to return to the Olympics since 2000. Unlike her competitors, who will have to divide their time evenly training on each of the apparatuses, Maroney can direct her focus almost exclusively on the vault. 

She is far and away the best vaulter in the world, and if she wins Team USA's first ever vaulting gold on Sunday, she will solidify her standing as the greatest vaulter in American history. There's no reason to believe that her overwhelming talent cannot carry her all the way to Brazil.