Long Beach’s McKayla Maroney fractured her face a week before the Olympic Trials and broke her toe the week before the Olympics. But now, she and the American women are gold medalists, after a dominant effort in the team final. Their final score of 183.596 gave them their first team gold since 1996. Russia earned silver with a 178.530 and Romania took bronze with a 176.414.
The Americans were tops in three events: balance beam, floor exercise, and the vault, which is the specialty of Maroney. Her vault gave her the highest score of any competitor in any event, a good omen for her chances in the vault apparatus finals, where she’ll have a very good chance to win a second gold next week. She scored 16.233 with her famed Amanar vault, with a meet-high difficulty rating of 9.7—Maroney is the only vaulter in the world who can attempt vaults of that difficulty.
Not only did she attempt it, but she stuck the landing, too, broken toe and all, causing many in the crowd to spontaneously spring to their feet. The BBC’s gymnastics broadcaster immediately declared, “That’s the best vaulting I’ve ever seen.” Maroney broke into a huge smile as soon as her feet hit the ground, and she ran back to her coach and her team to celebrate.
Her toe has kept her out of even trying to qualify for any other events, however, which meant that Maroney spent the rest of the day watching her teammates help protect and expand their lead on the rest of the world.
"I just wanted them to do so well and I'm just so proud of them,” she said. “I was screaming and yelling. That last event on floor was really exhilarating, but amazing at the same time. I don't think I will ever, ever forget that."
It’s not likely that any of the American team will. After the floor routine, the final event of the day, they stood together, arms around each other, watching the big screen overhead. They already knew they’d won, but they were waiting to see their names up there. Once “GOLD: America” flashed, they began to jump up and down and hug each other, a quick reminder that these supreme athletes, the best in the world at their sport, are young girls, as well.
For instance, Maroney and her best friend and teammate, Kyla Ross, were able to watch the final floor routines together, and cheer for the rest of the squad. “McKayla and I were together cheering as loud as we could,” said Ross. “We were screaming so loud."
Knowing that the individual all-arounds (which Maroney will not compete in) and the apparatus finals are still to come, Women’s National Team Martha Karolyi tried to be more reserved. "We are certainly enjoying this moment,” she said. “This is the result of the teamwork and what we did through the years. All the hard work paid off in the end."
Indeed it did—Maroney is a gold medalist, Long Beach’s first of 2012, and on August 5th, she’ll have a chance to become one two times over.