If there was one sure thing on the 2012 Olympic gymnastics squad, it was supposed to be McKayla Maroney.
Gabby Douglas was the first-place finisher at the Olympic Trials, but she hadn't made much of a mark in international competition heading into the Olympics, so there was some concern over her ability to compete in the individual events.
Jordyn Wieber was the reigning all-around world champion coming into the 2012 Games, but she struggled to compete with Douglas at the trials, so who knew how she'd fare against the best gymnasts Russia and China would present?
But then there was Maroney, the master of the vault, the U.S. asset that no other nation could compete with.
Or so we thought.
Maroney certainly didn't flop at the Olympics. No one would dare say that during a year when the women's team won the all-around team gold medal, especially because Maroney's unique skill set doubtlessly played a substantial part in that first-place finish.
But the individual event in which she was supposed to be a shoo-in for the gold—the vault—ended up being a big old disappointment.
In the one second it took Maroney to slip on her landing on her second vault, her chances of winning the gold were gone. After she earned a whopping 15.866 on her first attempt, she was all but guaranteed to place first, barring a complete and utter disaster on her second attempt.
And against all odds, a complete and utter disaster was what happened.
She slipped and scored a 14.3 on the attempt and the gold went to Romania's Sandra Izbasa.
McKayla Maroney doesn't slip. She doesn't make mistakes—not ever, but especially not on the world's biggest stage. She finished first on the apparatus at the 2011 World Championships, and at the 2011 Visa Championships, and at the 2012 City of Jesolo Trophy and, of course, at the Olympic Trials.
And now, somehow, there's a big "2" next to her name from this summer's Games.
A silver medal is no small feat, but it's unlikely Maroney will see it that way when she's spent her whole career working toward a gold.
The timing of the Olympics was bad for Maroney. In mid-June, she fell during warmups at the Visa Championships and suffered a concussion and a nasal fracture, according to Yahoo!. She fractured her right big toe before competing in the team competition in London, per the OC Register.
Maybe the injuries got into her head; maybe they affected her preparation for the Games more than she let on.
But whatever the case, Maroney can't end her Olympic career with a silver medal in her premiere event. She needs to give it another shot in Rio in four years—when, hopefully, she won't be riddled by injury and uncertainty in the months leading up to the Games.
Mistakes like the one Maroney made on her second vault don't happen every day. For a competitor of her pedigree, they likely happen once in a lifetime.
Maroney owes it to herself to give it one more shot—when she's completely healthy—so she can finally earn the gold she deserves.
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