McKayla Maroney's destiny was to win a gold medal in the vault at the 2012 Olympics. She was the newest American darling in the sport of gymnastics, all that was left was her individual crowning achievement after being rewarded in the team competition last week.
Someone, somewhere along the way didn't get the memo. Maroney was off, at least by her incredibly high standards, even on her first vault.
Maroney executed the Amanar beautifully, but the landing was a problem for her, as she took a slight hop and even landed out of bounds. It was an uncharacteristic slip for someone who has been as close to perfect as you can get.
Despite the slight error, Maroney was still in position to win a gold. She scored a 15.866 and had the world in the palm of her hands.
Her second vault was her undoing, and it left everyone watching around the world in a state of shock. Maroney hit the ground wrong, her feet slid out from under her and she fell to the ground. It was a stunning result that forced her to "settle" for a silver medal.
Watching Maroney fall to the mat was tough to bear. She had been so great, so consistent, and the head-and-shoulders, lead-pipe lock to win the gold. To see it snatched away by the fickle finger of fate was a reminder that things don't always go as planned in sports.
What was the more heartbreaking ending?
We all have such unrealistic expectations for athletes. They are supposed to be machines programmed to perform at their absolute best in the biggest moments. For an Olympian, things get compounded so much because they only have one chance to perform on the worldwide stage every four years.
Maroney's fall was a reminder of just how cruel and unforgiving sports can be. It also shows us just how human these athletes are.
We saw it last week with Maroney's teammate, Jordyn Wieber, who was supposed to win the gold medal in the individual all-around. She failed to qualify due to slip-ups in qualifying and a rule that only allows two participants per country.
In the case of Maroney, she is just 16 years old—the age of a sophomore or junior in high school. That kind of pressure would destroy most normal people. It is a testament to her talent and mindset that she has flourished in this sport.
Sports rarely play out the way we think. That is part of the reason we love to watch them, but it is also heartbreaking and painful at the same time. Maroney has nothing to be ashamed of after winning a silver in the vault.
But we will all look back on this event and wonder what could have been if she had landed that last vault perfectly. Sports, by design, are meant to leave a lot more questions than answers.
Maroney's slip might be one of the most baffling things we have seen in a long time, simply because of how much better she was than everyone else.