In the outstanding history of the U.S. women's gymnastics program, McKayla Maroney was going to become only the third gymnast ever to win multiple gold medals in an Olympic Game.
After helping her team to the gold medal in the team all-around performance Tuesday night, with a brilliant performance on vault on a broken toe, Maroney had the double gold in the bag. When Gabby Douglas won the individual all-around on Thursday, it was a sure thing that the United States was going to continue its streak this Sunday to win a third gold medal in women's gymnastics. McKayla was going to join Douglas and Shannon Miller as the only gymnasts to get that precious second gold medal.
After all, she was the reigning world champion on vault, which in and of itself couldn't even describe the dominance Maroney had on this event. The distance between her and the rest of the field wasn't even close to close, probably wider than most of the major favorites in this year's Games.
The only way she was not going to walk away with the gold was if she flat out fell. And what are the chances of a defending world champion flat out falling on a vault they've been practicing so much that they could do it in their sleep? Next to none.
Her first vault, her famous two and a half twisting Amanar vault, which many gymnastics pundits and coaches have considered renaming the "Maroney," wasn't her best, but it was more than good enough. She still had a half point lead over Sandra Izbasa, with a higher degree of difficulty in her second vault.
As expected, the only way that Maroney could lose was if she flat out fell. That just doesn't happen to someone as dominant as her, as consistent as her. Does it?
Unfortunately, gymnastics is about as unforgiving of a sport as there is out there. After waiting four years, training day upon day, hour upon hour, you get just two vaults to win the most coveted prize in the sport. McKayla Maroney is the best vaulter in the world, nobody will argue that. She is arguably the best vaulter of all time. She lands her second vault 99 out of 100 times, which is less difficult than her first.
This afternoon was that one time out of 100 that she didn't.
McKayla is as tough as they get, showing obvious disappointment after the event and during the medal ceremony, but did not let out one one single cry for pity the entire time. For a 16-year-old girl that had became a national celebrity overnight just days ago, to stay as composed and mature in a time of such failure is more impressive than actually winning the gold medal.
She accepted the silver medal graciously, making sure it was known that it was not the medal she was disappointed with, but rather her own performance. Because, in all honesty, nothing else really mattered but her performance. It was her event to lose, not Sandra Izbasa's event to win. She had absolutely nothing to prove against the rest of the field. All she had to prove was that she could live up to the immense, well-deserved hype that she had received in this event.
The most unfortunate thing about this whole situation is that McKayla Maroney's legacy as the most dominant vaulter of her time will suffer in the eyes of the casual, once-in-four-years gymnastics fans. Words like "overrated" and "choke" could potentially be thrown out when her name is brought up. In terms of unfair reputations in sports, McKayla will most likely get one of the worst.
But to people who follow gymnastics throughout the year, and hopefully to much of the general public, McKayla Maroney is still far and away the best vaulter in the world. To top it off, she is possibly a more impressive young lady than she is a vaulter.
Even in the prime of their careers, at their peak of dominance, Barry Bonds struck out, Peyton Manning overthrew an open receiver and Michael Jordan missed a free throw. McKayla Maroney missed the landing of a vault. Unfortunately you don't get a second chance in Olympic gymnastics.