Every four years, we all become glued to the television screen to watch the Olympics. But when it’s all over, what happens to the athletes? Apart from minor competitions, it’s another four years until they can bask in glory again.
And by that time, most of us have forgotten about them entirely. Not McKayla Maroney, though. She hasn’t just settled for being an ex-Olympian nobody. She’s moving on to bigger and better things.
Even by the tender age of 16, McKayla Maroney had achieved more than many of us do in a lifetime. All her hard work and dedication from an early age had paid off, and she was already one of the world’s greatest gymnasts. Few could match her beauty and grace, both on the vault and on the floor. She was destined to be an Olympian…
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London ranks up there as one of her greatest memories. Along with four other girls, she formed what they called the “Fierce Five” – an all-star dream team of American female gymnasts. These ladies were not only some of the greatest gymnasts of all time but also best friends. And their campaign had a fairytale ending.
The American women’s gymnastics team, against tough competition, took out the gold medal for the floor. It was an exhilarating moment for everyone, and McKayla had a huge hand in their success. Her vault score in the team competition was the highest in the entire games, and her execution average was the highest of all time.
The most famous thing she did that summer, though, just came down to a slip of the face. Although she was predicted to easily win the individual vault competition, a botched landing on the second run resulted in her only taking the silver medal home. Upon the podium, she was captured making a face that expressed her disappointment. That “McKayla is not impressed” face instantly went viral.
Whether it was from the medals or her internet meme fame, McKayla’s return to America after the Olympics found her at the centre of attention. It was a lot for a 16-year-old to handle, But Maroney just lapped it up. From appearing on Letterman and The Colbert Report to snapping a photo with the same face with Obama, she loved it all.
But viral attention only lasts so long. McKayla’s 15 minutes went for longer than most, but eventually, she had to face the reality: the Olympics were over, and her training, for now, was complete. It’s something that many athletes find after a major competition: that sense of sudden aimlessness. It can be hard to adjust to if you don’t have a new plan.
That wasn’t the end of McKayla’s troubles. A few months after the games, she fractured the tibia bone in her left leg, while performing an awkward dismount from the uneven bars in a competition. This eventually healed, thanks to quick surgery, but not long after that, she had to go in for knee surgery.
By the time 2016 came around, Maroney had to face up to an awful truth. All her injuries and all the pain of recovery meant that she wouldn’t make it to that year’s Olympics in Rio. In fact, it would make the rest of her career even more difficult than it already had been. She could try and push on, or she could retire. After a lot of thinking and heartbreak, she chose to retire.
Everything was against her – her body, time, and the selectors. On the one hand, it inspired her to keep fighting. But on the other, she knew that it would not end well. “The reason why I wanted to go to this next Olympics – I finally figured it out,” she said at the time. “I wanted to show people that when everyone else is up against them, they can get through the struggle and the pain and do it because they love something.”
This shock decision to retire, although she had made it herself, hurt her deeply. From the age of two, this had been her entire life, and now it was gone. “Yeah it’s cool that I want to do it and help inspire people but I didn’t know how to be okay with not being a gymnast. I go to a Starbucks or Jamba Juice or anything and they’re like ‘Are you going to the next one?’ Until the other day, I was not OK with saying no and I had no choice in my mind with being something else.”
What was that something else going to be? Well, by this time she was 21 years old and smoking hot. She was no longer a skinny gymnast teenager, but a stunning young woman. So she did what any gorgeous woman would do in her situation: post hundreds of drool-worthy pictures of herself on Instagram, and become famous that way.
Even when she was 16, we had a hint of the beauty to come. But the scorcher that emerged at age 21 was even hotter than we had all imagined. Many of the unkinder and ruder aspects of the internet came out to attack her Instagram profile, saying that she had gotten fake breasts and work on her lips.
But that’s not McKayla’s style, and she blew off the haters in two ways. Firstly with an outrageously good twerking video (always works), and then by shutting them all down online. “First of all I haven’t,” she wrote up in response to the accusations of surgery. “And I’ve posted a picture on Instagram last night that was like, how do I make my face look like I didn’t do anything to my face when I literally have not done anything to my face?”
Talented, gorgeous, athletic. Is there anything more she’d like to add to herself? Well, how about getting into the music industry, which she’s also working on right now. We haven’t heard her voice, but we can bet that if she works as hard as she trains, there’s no doubt the studios will be lining up at her door to sign her up.
That’s just two of the projects on McKayla’s horizon. For the rest… well, for the rest we’ll just have to wait and see. Right now, it looks like she’s taken down her Instagram account for some much-needed quiet time. When she emerges again soon, we can bet that we’re going to see yet another awesome side to her.