The 2012 US Olympic gymnastics team came back from London as champions. As one of the Fierce Five, McKayla Maroney instantly became a person of interest due to her beauty and athletic prowess. Since the games, the 21-year-old’s life has been nothing like she expected.
Roller Coaster Career
McKayla Maroney made headlines for her efforts in the Olympics but has since seen her name sprawled across papers and the internet from a collection of professional and personal blows. Was Maroney able to recover from her misfortunes?
McKayla’s journey began on December 9, 1995. She was born to Mike and Erin Maroney in Aliso Viejo, California and quickly adopted the life of a gymnast. She was welcomed into quite an athletic family. Mike Maroney took his share of hits while playing as a quarterback at Purdue University. Erin, on the other hand, was a very active high school athlete, focusing on figure skating but also participating on other teams. McKayla was quickly put into homeschooling so she could focus and train for gymnastics.
Starting young was the key to McKayla’s success. She remembers being a little girl and running around with her siblings Tarynn and Kav. In an interview, she said, “When I was younger,” she said, “I would be watching Tarzan and running around on all fours. My mom was like, ‘I need to put this child in gymnastics. She’s crazy.’ I was technically in gymnastics at the age of 2 and always felt comfortable in the gym.” It would not be long before her dreams would be realized.
McKayla’s gymnastics training took a turn at age nine when she began to take her training seriously. She took her young talents to Gym-Max in Costa Mesa, California where she became the lead gymnast in her class. “I realized that I had a dream that I wanted to go to the Olympics and I wanted to go as far as I could go. I thought I should probably move to a new gym and start thinking about the Olympics,” she said.
First Olympic Memory
Maroney was falling in love with the sports so much that she can remember her first gymnastics Olympic memory. “I remember watching Carly Patterson. She was one of my favorites. I loved her floor routine. I went to Olympic Trials that year (2004) with Kyla [Ross].” Patterson was a perfect role model for McKayla. At the Athens games in 2004, Patterson won the all-around gold medal in addition to her silver medals in the team competition and the balance beam.
It Runs Deeper
McKayla’s love of gymnastics extended beyond how gymnasts performed and into their overall look. “I remember seeing the gymnasts on the floor, and I loved all of their leotards. I thought they were so little and so amazing,” she said. “‘How am I going to stay this little?’ I was worried that I was going to be really tall because my dad is 6’3″ and my mom is 5’2″, so I didn’t know which one I was going to be.”
First Signs Of Greatness
In 2009, McKayla got her first taste of real competition at the Visa Championships in Dallas, Texas. Considering it was her first major event, McKayla fared well. She was only 13 at the time, but still managed to claim third place in the vault final. “I was just really little, and I didn’t really know what was going on. But I just did it, and I was just very happy that I landed on my feet,” she said about her first amanar.
Getting Better All The Time
The following year’s Visa Championships took place in Hartford, Connecticut, and McKayla was ready to prove herself yet again. She improved on her performance from the year before. McKayla took home third place in the all-around competition and paired that with a first-place finish in the vault, fourth place in the floor exercise, and seventh on the balance beam. Her personal growth continued, and soon she would find herself competing outside of the United States.
McKayla’s gymnastics domination began to take form at the Pan American Championships. She traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico for the games and made sure the international community knew her name. In the individual events, she took home first place in both the vault and the floor exercise. Her performance in the vault, balance beam, and floor helped power the United States to an overall first place finish. Maroney had put her stamp on the event and announced herself as a serious member of the US gymnastics program.
McKayla’s star was still on the rise. In 2011, she flew across the Atlantic for a major tournament in Italy called The City Jesolo Trophy. She continued her dominance at the tournament, taking home the top prize in the all-around competition. Not long after, McKayla would make her return to the Visa Championships, this time at the senior level at the St. Paul, Minnesota competition. It was more of the same for McKayla. She won the vault competition and finished second in the all-around.
Land Of The Rising Star
2011 had already been a successful year for McKayla. Now she was ready to fly to Tokyo, Japan for the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. With the eyes of the gymnastics world peering down on her, McKayla did what she does best – dominate the competition. Again, she helped the United States capture the team gold medal, as well as earning an individual gold medal in the vault. Her stock had risen to immense heights and she only had one thing left to conquer.
A Team Effort
McKayla and her Team USA teammates were all peaking at the perfect time. Along with Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber, McKayla found herself among the most talked about team of young women in the country, and globally within the sport. They started to be called the Fab Five and continued to take the gymnastics world by storm. Fortunately, they would have soon have a chance to show the world how good they were with the Olympics around the corner.
Fab Turned Fierce
McKayla and teammate Jordan Wieber soon realized that they needed a name change. While on their way to a training session, the two decided that they need a more original name. The Fab Five was the popular monicker of the University of Michigan’s basketball team’s starting lineup of five stellar freshmen in 1991, as well as English rock band Duran Duran. They searched for words starting with “F” to complete the name. It came down to either fierce and feisty. They settled on The Fierce Five.
The Fierce Five stayed on track for the Olympics even amidst the name change. The 2012 London Olympics had finally arrived, and the Fierce Five proved that they were worthy of their nickname. McKayla’s execution average score of 9.733 was the highest throughout the entire competition, and she helped the United States capture the team gold. About the Olympic performance, she said, “I just wanted them to do so well, and I’m just so proud of them… I don’t think I will ever, ever forget that.”
In the vault event, McKayla went to work. She took home the silver medal which is a major achievement. However, Maroney was disappointed in her performance, knowing that she let a great opportunity slip away. During her second attempt, McKayla hit the vault for an Amanar but could not get her feet underneath her and fell to the mat. It ended a personal 33-vault streak, and she had to settle for second place. Maroney knew that the gold was in her sights.
Honest & Humble
McKayla blamed nobody but herself for the spill. “I’ll have to watch the video and figure out what happened,” she said. “It’s really sad that I had to fall on that vault, but I’m glad I won a silver medal. I know I can do better vaults, but I also know I didn’t deserve the gold medal because I fell on my second vault. It happens. It’s gymnastics. You can’t always be perfect. Sometimes things don’t go as planned.”
The Game Changer
Although Sandra Izbasa of Romania beat McKayla for the gold in the vault, Izbasa has become only a footnote from the medal ceremony thanks to a well-timed shot of McKayla. During the ceremony, McKayla was caught on the silver medal podium with a crooked pout on her face. The disappointment on her face led to a wave of social media posts. She became an internet sensation thanks to a Tumblr blog titled “McKayla is not impressed.”
The image itself began to circulate the internet as more and more people began to repost it on their Twitter and Facebook pages. Eventually, the photo itself was not enough to entertain the internet. People began ironically using her image and cropping it into various situations such as “impressive” places, people, and scenarios. Some of the most classic examples were “McKayla is not impressed” while at the Great Wall of China and “McKayla is not impressed” with Usain Bolt’s record-breaking sprints.
In response to the massive flow of internet memes, McKayla could have felt embarrassed as she was thrust into the spotlight for reasons out of her control. Instead, she said that she found the meme to be “kinda funny” and ran with the joke. She tried not to take it too seriously and began to poke fun at herself and the now-famous face. Maroney appeared on various late night shows such as The Colbert Report and The Late Show with David Letterman and gave the face.
Obama’s Not Impressed
McKayla and her goofy face followed the Fierce Five across the country as they went on a media tour following their London triumph. Everyone wanted to meet them. When they were invited to the White House, President Obama was very excited to have the five girls for a visit, especially McKayla. Maroney and Obama snapped a photo together as they recreated the face in the Oval Office. The photo only added to her legend, and it went viral itself.
McKayla’s streak of luck was about to run out. The Olympics were over, and the buzz from it was nearing its conclusion. She was hoping to continue her momentum forward and maintain her championship level of gymnastics. However, only a couple months after the Olympics, McKayla injured her leg while on a champions tour. X-rays revealed that she fractured her left tibia. It required surgery to place screws in the broken bone. She was forced to wear an immobilizer and could no longer perform.
With the success of London and the disappointment of her injury behind her, McKayla jumped into 2013 ready to get back on the vault. She made a full recovery and prepared to join her Fierce Five teammates at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. The tournament was held in Antwerp, Belgium and McKayla, with a bitter taste in her mouth from her slip in London, was ready to prove she deserved the gold. In the perfect comeback story, McKayla captured the gold in the vault final.
Winning the World Championships gold in the vault was a historic moment. In an incredible feat, McKayla became the first female gymnast from the United States to win back to back vault gold medals. She had come a long way from her injury, and this victory was the perfect way to prove to herself that she still had what it took. No longer did she have thoughts of retiring at 18. Her score of 15.724 helped cement her legacy in United States gymnastics history.
Now that McKayla had become a star thanks to her London performance, she had become a hot commodity. In January 2013, she took her talents to the 86th Miss America pageant. Although she would have stunned the crowd on the stage, she was invited as a judge alongside dancer Cheryl Burke, the 2009 winner of Miss America Katie Stam Irk, and TV personality Mary Hart. She was a natural fit for the job. After years of being judged, it was her turn to score contestants.
Little Rock Star
Her next project would see McKayla contributing her talents to rock band Thirty Seconds To Mars. Frontman/actor Jared Leto, known for his roles in Requiem For A Dream and Fight Club, did not bring McKayla in to contribute a bass groove, but did ask her to be a part of the music video for their song “Up In The Air.” Burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese was in the video, as well as her Fierce Five teammate Jordyn Wieber.
McKayla’s 2013 continued to get better. In a huge career move, McKayla signed a big endorsement deal with Adidas. Following her successes over the past two years, it was about time that she received recognition for her work through a major endorsement deal. On Adidas’s site, she explained, “I’ve worked so hard to achieve my dreams because I truly love it. I’ve learned in life to do what you love and what makes you happy – it will always be worth it.”
Apparently, McKayla had no interest in only sticking to gymnastics. She became hooked on acting and began showing up in a variety of roles. Her most significant role was a recurring guest spot on the CW show Hart of Dixie. Across from star Rachel Bilson, McKayla’s character Rose appeared in a total of six episodes. Also, she lent herself to an episode of Fox crime drama Bones before appearing as herself in the America Ferrara-starring Superstore.
In 2016, McKayla found herself back in a difficult position. During an interview with GymCastic, a popular podcast focused on gymnastics news, McKayla detailed the long succession of injuries she had since the London Olympic games. The injuries not only took her out of competition, but took her out of training and she struggled to regain the fitness necessary to be a world-class athlete. It became too much to overcome, and McKayla retired from gymnastics. The announcement came two days after Kyla Ross announced her retirement.
McKayla’s retirement got off to a bumpy start due to some social media messiness. In May 2017, she began catching a ton of flack for a suggestive video on her Instagram account. Many speculated where it came from, but McKayla confirmed that she had posted the video herself and that she was not hacked. People began to criticize her for not being the role model that they hoped she would be. McKayla responded by saying that she was not trying to be a role model.
Stepping Into Tomorrow
With much of her life still ahead of her, McKayla is trying to move past her career setbacks and online controversy. She has goals to continue with her recent uptick in acting roles. She said, “I really want to act and sing later in my life, so I’ve been taking those kinds of classes,” she said. “I have lots of different goals and dreams – winning the Olympics was just one of them.” All she hopes to do now is move forward.