By Calvin Palmer
Two gymnasts entered the North Greenwich Arena at the London Olympics yesterday with the expectation of walking away with a gold medal for an individual event. One was American; the other was British. One was female; the other male.
Mckayla Maroney, one of America’s Fab Five gymnasts who took gold in the team event, was competing in the vault. In the build up to the event, NBC presented her with typical American hype and depicted her in a series of photographs that would not have looked out of place in a men’s glamour magazine. For the record, Maroney is only 16.
In the arena, Maroney strutted around with a look of smug confidence that only Americans can conjure up. The look on her face simply said: “The gold medal is mine. I don’t know why these other girls have bothered turning up.” We saw that look of hubris quite a bit during NBC’s coverage because Maroney was competing seventh out of eight competitors.
Eventually, her turn came. Her first vault was the best in the competition and partly justified that smug look on her face. Her second vault ended in disaster – she landed in a sitting position.
Occasionally, nemesis has a habit of striking the right person and no one was more deserving of her fate than Maroney.
The final competitor, Sandra Izbasa of Romania, completed two less complex vaults with few errors and outscored the American to take the gold medal.
What followed seemed to reinforce the sense of nemesis. Maroney, like a spoiled brat, failed to congratulate the Romanian girl. In fact, the Romanian girl, with good grace, went to console Maroney with a hug. Maroney was unresponsive, looking over the Romanian girl’s right shoulder with a stony sulky stare, consumed in her own disappointment.
In the men’s pommel horse event, Great Britain’s Louis Smith had high hopes of winning a gold medal event after he recorded the highest score in the qualifying round.
The pressure was on Smith after Hungarian rival Krisztian Berki delivered a flawless routine that earned a score of 16.066. Smith rose to the challenge and matched the Hungarian’s effort. With both men scoring 16.006, the gold medal went to Berki who had a marginally higher execution score – 9.166 to Smith’s 9.066.
Four years ago, Smith suffered a similar fate in Beijing when he tied with Croatia’s Filip Ude for silver but lost out in the tie-break and ended up with bronze.
Once the result had sunk in, Smith – unlike the petulant Maroney – walked over to Berki and warmly congratulated the gold medal winner in the true spirit of sportsmanship.
Smith will have won a great many admirers for the dignified manner in which he handled his disappointment. Maroney’s behaviour earned her zero points for how to cope with defeat. Her behaviour was anything but fabulous.
No one likes a sore loser and Maroney was sore in more senses of the word than one. She did herself, and her country, no favours with her conduct yesterday.