To the vault!
American gymnast (and underage sexyface server) McKayla Maroney came in to the individual event finals a major favorite after delivering the second most amazing vault I’ve ever seen in Olympic gymnastics during last week’s team competition. It’s not an understatement to say that Tim Daggett had no doubt Maroney was going to take gold. He even idly wondered at one point what effect her presence had on the other gymnasts. I’m not saying Daggett’s over-confidence had any bearing on Maroney’s actual performance, but it certainly made her attempt to replicate her mind-blowing vault from Tuesday that much more unrealistic. And, sure, she did step out one foot out of bounds on her first attempt, but it was still pretty spectacular.
As Maroney readied for her second vault — a less challenging one at that — Elfi Schlegel mentioned she hadn’t been impressed by a single piece of gymnastic in a long time. While that may not the best thing to say when you’re a gymnastics commentator and are supposed to be excited about the sport all the time, it’s still worth noting. Another thing Elfi said before Maroney’s second vault? “She just needs to put it to her feet.” And that’s exactly what Maroney did not do. She sat that bad boy down. Cue faces of serious disappointment from her Fab Five teammates in the stands (including a full-on mouth-grabbing gasp from BFF-since-childhood Kyla Ross.) Though Maroney briefly kept her lead, Romania’s Sandra Izbasa was the final gymnast to go, and she performed two solid vaults to take gold. Maria Paseka of Russia took bronze, despite pulling a Komova and stepping off the landing strip. I have to wonder how gratified Paseka, on behalf of her teammates, was at Maroney’s fall. Those girls were ugly crying on Tuesday.
If nothing else, the first night of women’s individual events finals was a rare chance to see that countries other than the U.S., Russia, and China have world-class gymnasts (hey Germany! hey Dominican Republic!). Mind you, that’s not always a good thing. Canada’s Elsabeth Black had a brutal first pass (akin to that of Great Britain’s Hannah Whelan at all arounds) and wisely stopped running just short of the launch pad on her second attempt. I know we’re a voyeuristic culture, but I sincerely hope most people don’t want to see a teenager actually break her face. Black’s bad run seemed to inspire fear in Dominican gymnast Yamilet Peña Abreu, who flaked on her first run and sat down her second. Mind you, hers was the most difficult vault of the entire women’s Olympics competition. (She somewhat successfully completed a second vault with a much lower start value.) Also competing? Six-time Olympian — I’ll repeat that – SIX-TIME Olympian — and Beijing’s silver medal-winning vaulter Oksana Chusovitina, repping Germany (though she was born in Uzbekistan and has competed for Russia and the post-Cold War-era Unified Team).
I would be remiss not to mention that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Kate-of-WillAndKate-squeeeeee!), was in the stands cheering the girls on. After the competition ended, she took a moment to talk to Team USA. I suspect the name Justin Bieber did not pass anyone’s lips. (I wish I could say the same for Ryan Seacrest, who continued to “report” on Twitter, even though no one asked.)
The men also vied for individual medals in the floor routine and pommel horse. On the floor, Beijing champ Zou Kai once again prevailed (and brought his own art with him!), U.S. athlete Jake Dalton’s creamy jade eyes weren’t enough to take him to the podium, and Chile’s Enrique Tomás González may, in fact, be a ’70s porn star. On pommel horse, Great Britain was magnificent. Both Louis Smith and Max Whitlock turned in remarkable performances, though a technicality meant Smith — who tied with Hungarian Krisztian Berki — took the silver (Whitlock got bronze). Seeing this and Aly Raisman’s podium knock-off, I ask you: Has there ever been an Olympics with so many ties? Regardless, it was Great Britain’s first time to take two medals in men’s individual gymnastics. I’ll give some credit to Stella McCartney’s kickin’ uniforms.
In other news…
The bikinis were officially out in women’s volleyball this weekend. It’s only right. Misty and Kerri need a freedom of movement that those god-awful night tights just can’t provide. After a hard-fought battle with Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti of Italy, the defending champions advanced past the quarterfinals. Despite some trouble earlier this year (and even during this very Games), Team USA’s dynamic duo is not messing around. Appropriately (and maybe a little meanly?) Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” played for two of the three match point rounds. Then again, Menegatti was sobbing even during the match. Am I a mean girl for wanting to scream, “There’s no crying in volleyball”?
Meanwhile, women’s 3m springboard diving went like every other diving competition this Games: China easily took gold. They were a lock for silver, too, and everyone else fought for scraps. Battle bronze came down to three ladies — Italy’s Tania Cagnotto, a four-time Olympian who hoped to be the first to medal in the same sport as her father did (between 1972 and 1980); American Cassidy Krug, who retired but returned for these Games, and Mexico’s dependable, three-time Olympian Laura Sanchez. In the end, dependability won out over sensational stories as China took the top two spots on the podium (Wu Minxia with gold, He Zi silver) and Sanchez snuck into bronze standing.