By Diane Pucin, Tribune Olympic Bureau
9:30 PM EDT, August 5, 2012
LONDON — McKayla Maroney can seem severe.
She has a competition face that comes complete with a glare and a stare. But after she had an unlikely fall on a relatively easy vault Sunday, Maroney — who had coined the nickname "Fierce Five," for the U.S. gold medal women's gymnastics team — was not severe or fierce or anything but a startled teenager who tried her best to be grown up.
And then Maroney cried. Her tears melted her makeup and made her voice shake.
"I'm happy to be the Olympic silver medalist," Maroney said. "I really am."
The happiness, though, hadn't yet registered.
Sandra Izbasa of Romania was the upset gold medalist at the North Greenwich Arena, scoring an average of 15.191 on her two vaults. Maria Paseka of Russia got the bronze with an average of 15.050 points. Maroney's silver medal score was 15.083.
In Sunday's men's floor exercise, Zou Kai of China won gold, just ahead of Japan'snewly-crowned Olympic all-around champion, Kohei Uchimura of Japan. American Jake Dalton was fifth.
On the pommel horse, whereBritain'sLouis Smith was a favorite. Kate Middleton was in the crowd to cheer him on. But it wasHungary'sKrisztian Berki who got the gold. Smith and Berki had the same total score, 16.066, but Smith lost out in the tiebreaking procedure. Britain's Max Whitlock took bronze.
But the big upset was Maroney's silver.
The 16-year-old from California is the defending world vault champion and was the consensus Olympic favorite after she had scored 16.233 on a vault called the Amanar in the team competition, the hardest vault women perform.
And after three of the six women who vaulted before Maroney in the eight-woman final fell or stumbled or even scored a zero (Canadian Elsabeth Black) for not hitting any part of the landing zone with feet before face, it seemed Maroney could be relaxed.
Instead Maroney said she was nervous and after she fell, even though she was still in first place with only Izbasa left, Maroney said she knew what she had lost.
"I already knew that I pretty much only had the silver medal," she said. "I really didn't deserve to win a gold medal if I fall on my butt. I'm still happy with a silver but it's still just sad."
Before Maroney competed Sunday, her American teammate Gabby Douglas, the Olympic women's all-around champion, called Maroney's Amanar vault, "The beast."
"How she gets so high," Douglas said. "I'm so amazed. When she does it at camp, the (vault) literally shakes."
Maroney did a competent Amanar as her first of two required vaults.
Still, Maroney's score of 15.866 was the highest of the day. But her second, easier, vault ended badly. Maroney didn't get her hands securely on the table, came off the apparatus low and landed on her heels first before sliding to the ground.
Maroney had a look of shock on her face and she didn't even look at the scoreboard to see 14.300 get posted.
"Honestly," Izbasa said through a translator, "the vault final is a war of the nerves and it showed."
Maroney didn't need the translation. She already understood.