Every cloud has a silver liningToday saw the first of the women's apparatus finals with eight of the World's best vaulters fighting it out for the medals. Over the last couple of years there has only been one girl to beat - McKayla Maroney. She has shown again and again that she is the best vaulter in the world, coming into these finals as the reigning World Champion on vault and qualifying to the finals in first place - almost 0.500 ahead of the second place qualifier. Everybody was saying that it was her title for the taking and that nobody could beat her. It would also be America's first Olympic vault title. That seems an awful lot of pressure on the shoulders of a 16 year old.
McKayla had already shown just exactly what she was capable of in terms of vaulting, both in the qualification and the team final. The difficulty of both her vaults is amongst the highest in the field and her execution is second to none. In qualification her execution scores were 9.400 for the first vault and 9.600 for the second. When you consider how difficult it is for anyone to get an execution score well into the 9.000s these days that is quite an achievement. In the team final she performed the most amazing Amanar vault that I, or anyone else, had ever seen. She scored a total of 16.233 with an absolutely unheard of 9.733 for execution. And still people were saying that she was underscored with many believing that her execution score should have been a perfect 10.000.
In today's final, McKayla was the 7th of eight finalists to vault. Although there had been some superb vaulting already (including from Oksana Chusovitina in her 6th and final Olympics) it was McKayla's spectacular vaulting we were all waiting to see. Just the memories of her previous vaults seem to make the other finalists seem lacking in comparison. McKayla's first vault was her favoured Amanar - the Yurchenko vault with 2.5 twists. Although it was performed incredibly cleanly, as always, she was uncharacteristically out of line and landed in the red area of the mat giving her a 0.3 penalty. When her exceptional execution score of 9.666 was taken into account alongside the penalty she was awarded 15.866, a higher score than anybody had posted so far. Her second vault, the round off, half turn on and full twist off had been looking so good in training. She was only one vault away from being practically unbeatable - even by Romania's Sandra Izbasa who was always going to be strong challenger and would be the last one up to vault. But today it was not to be. The gymnastics world looked on in shock as McKayla came over the vault and sat it down. Everybody was simply speechless. Bekah (of Get A Grip Gym Blog) has done the research and found out that in the whole of her competitive career McKayla has landed 58/60 of her vaults and has only failed to land a vault properly twice, once today and once back in 2009 (click here for details). Not bad statistics but such a shame for McKayla that it happened today.
I was devastated as I am sure McKayla must have been. The scores came in and despite her fall, her excellent execution in flight gave her a score of 14.300 for her second vault. This gave her a total of 15.083 and put her in the lead with only one gymnast to go. Sandra Izbasa was the last gymnast to vault and has vast experience and plenty of vault medals to her name. She performed her vaults really well and took the Gold medal. Although I was still upset that the Gold was not going to McKayla, it started to sink in just what an achievement McKayla had made - she had fallen on her second vault, giving her a 1.000 deduction, and landed on the red in her first vault, giving her a 0.300 deduction yet she finished in 2nd and only 0.108 behind the Gold medal winner. She may not have won the Gold medal today but I truly believe she is the best vaulter in the world.
I am really pleased for Sandra Izbasa, she vaulted well and kept her nerve, and deserved the Gold medal today. McKayla herself said afterwards "I really didn't deserve to win a gold medal if I fall on my butt, I'm not disappointed about the silver, I’m disappointed about my performance." But every cloud has a silver lining - quite literally in this case! McKayla came away with the Silver medal, but next time I am sure it will be Gold again.