Who said nobody remembers second place? Whoever it was, never accounted for McKayla Maroney!
The young American won silver at the London 2012 Olympics, but has been the golden girl ever since, thanks to her infamous reaction on the podium alongside her fellow competitors.
But what happens when you become known for being a viral sensation rather than an athlete? We take a look at her life and what she is up to now. It is a world away from the gym vault we can tell you!
McKayla was born on December 9th 1995 to parents Mike and Erin (pictured above). Both her parents were very keen on sports so it was only a matter of time before their daughter got involved. Her father Mike played Quarterback for Purdue University and her mother was a figure skater. They took the decision to homeschool McKayla so that she could train as much as possible.
McKayla wasn’t the couples only daughter, she had two siblings called Tarynn and Kay. The three children would always be very active but it was McKayla, who loved watching Tarzan as a child, who would take up gymnastics from the tender age of two years old.
She said that “My mom saw me running around on all fours like Tarzan and 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.”
At nine years of age, McKayla started to really pick up her training and joined Gym-Max in Costa Mesa, California. Her coaches soon started to see her potential and she started to dream of going to the Olympics. She said of those years:
“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.”
McKayla soon started to see the benefits of upping her training and soon won local club competitions for her performances, always alongside her close friend Kyla Ross.
As McKayla started to dream of the Olympics, her parents organised for her to go and watch the 2004 USA Olympic Trials and the visit saw her fall in love with Carly Patterson and her performance. Patterson would go on to win the Gold medal in Athens that summer. But it wasn’t just Patterson that young McKayla fell in love with…
It was the whole event!
“I remember seeing the gymnasts on the floor and I loved all of their leotards. I thought they were so little and so amazing, but 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.”
After hundreds of training sessions, McKayla first major competition arrived in 2009 at the Visa Championships in Dallas. Considering it was her first event and at the age of 13, her third placed finish in the Vault Final was a huge shock.
A Year Later
McKayla returned a year later to the Visa Championships, this time in Hartford, Connecticut looking to build her successful first appearance. She did just that, by finishing third in the all-round competition before claiming first on the vault! The result sent out a signal of intent and people started to talk of her chances of becoming a huge star.
After her success in the Visa Championships, McKayla was able to compete in the Pan American Championships in Mexico that year. Now part of Team USA, her performances heavily contributed to a win for her nation and with another first place on the Vault and floor, people really started to talk up her chances of a major success.
Jesolo Trophy Win
In 2011 she travelled to Italy to compete in the City of Jesolo Trophy in which she claimed her first major individual title abroad. She won the all-round competition firmly placing in her in the category of ‘one’s to watch’.
Another Win Abroad
With the Olympics just around the corner, McKayla and the US team were really stepping it up in 2011 with a team win at the World Artistic Championships in Japan. But at this stage McKayla wasn’t worried about who would be representing the US, she was still all about gaining more experience:
“For every competition, I just went in there with confidence in myself and in my team, and each day it felt like I gained more and more experience.”
After that performance the potential squad was slowly coming together. The team of five saw McKayala paired with Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber. Much alike US teams before them, the press referred to them with a ‘name’, the ‘Fab Five’ was their choice., but the girls weren’t so sure.
The girls weren’t sold on the idea of ‘Fab Five’ because of the connection to Duran Duran, so they looked to tweak their name. McKayla and Jordyn decided that ‘Fierce Five’ had a better ring to it and more appropriate. So do we!
The girls went on to truly deliver on the big stage when the Olympics arrived in London in 2012. A great performance for the whole team in the Team competition saw them take home the Gold. A fine 9.733 from McKayla sent the girls well on their way. As a team they were ecstatic, but there would be heartbreak to come.
After the team final, it was down to McKayla to repeat the success in her individual Vault final. Unfortunately in her second attempt at an Amanar she stumbled and cost her vital points. The final result saw McKayla in second place, adding a silver to her team gold. That would be more than enough for most people but not Maroney!
Initially it seemed that McKayla was graceful in what she saw as a defeat, rather than a silver medal win:
“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.”
But did we believe it?
When it came to actually accepting her medal on the podium, it was a totally different story. McKayla was seen to be seriously ‘unimpressed’ with her silver medal and the whole ceremony. this image of her pouting then when around the world via social media, with the title ‘McKayla is not impressed’. It went viral.
After the competition finished and with her image going viral, people started to look closer at the footage of her and she was caught actually rolling her eyes at her two fellow gymnasts. She was blasted by the public for not showing more sportsmanship in that moment. But did that stop people sharing her ‘unimpressed’ photo. Did it heck!
Like anything popular on the internet these days, McKayla’s expression was turned in memes. From McKayla visiting the Wall of China to this of her on the moon, there are hundreds of them!
Start Of A Career?
McKayla responded to her new found popularity claiming that the memes were ‘kinda funny’ but also that she felt embarrassed that she wasn’t getting attention for her performance. That didn’t stop her appearing on shows like The Late Show with David Letterman, The Colbert Report and Dancing with the Stars to talk about it. She now had a career away from the gym..
Invited To The White House
The Fierce Five were invited to the White House after their Olympic success in 2012, incredibly Barack Obama had seen the memes and felt like he had to get involved with McKayla’s unimpressed pose. The pair were photographed and of course, McKayla went viral once again!
The buzz around McKayla and her Fierce Five team mates was still very strong when they went on a Champions Tour in California. Unfortunately Maroney and her team mate Aly Raisman were both injured while performing. Maroney fractured her left tibia and had to wear an immobilizer after having screws inserted into her leg.
In January 2013 while still recovering, McKayla was invited to be a judge for the 86th Miss America Pageant! She sat alongside a celebrity panel and was able to judge for herself for a change, rather than be judged!
After a horrible end to the previous year and her off field antics, 2013 also saw McKayla return to competition. After proving her fitness she made her comeback complete at the 2013 Artistic Championships, with an incredible gold medal win in the Vault.
30 Seconds To Mars
After her return to competition, McKayla was approached by 30 Seconds To Mars to feature in their music video. She worked alongside burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese and team mate Jordyn Wieber to produce some incredible shots for the ‘Up In The Air’ video.
You sense that the break at the end of 2012 changed McKayla’s mentality in terms of her outside gymnastics. In 2013 she also signed a huge endorsement deal with Adidas. Who doesn’t like free stuff!?
A TV Star?
McKayla was hot property, no question, she incredibly was offered a recurring role in show Hart Of Dixie alongside actress Rachel Bilson! She has also appeared on an episode of crime drama Bones!
Being a public figure leaves a person subject to scrutiny but also leaves them open to a scandal. In 2014, intimate photos of a number of famous faces were leaked onto imageboard 4Chan, alleged photos of McKayla were included in this reveal. At first she denied they were of her, but later confirmed they were in fact racy photos of her taken from Apple’s iCloud.
Retirement But Not The End
Unfortunately there was more heartbreak in the gym as she announced her retirement on a Gymnastic podcast. She blamed a number of injuries for her decision just before Rio 2016. But this wouldn’t be the last we would see of her, in a way, her story was really only just beginning.
McKayla caused another media storm when she appeared at the US Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Trials in 2016, as she was accused of having plumped up her lips with artificial injections. People were quick to point out that because a viral smirk had made her famous, she had tried to focus all her attention on that look. She denied it all, and claimed it was make-up tricks.
Once again McKayla found herself at the centre of controversy, when she posted a suggestive video on Instagram in May 2017. People were quick to suggest she had been hacked again, but she responded to confirm that she hadn’t been hacked and had posted it. This was widely criticizes by many who originally saw her as a role model for young gymnasts, her response ‘I never wanted to be role model’. She then took a step away from social media.
A Pop Career?
With her competing days over, McKayla has been able to concentrate her efforts on building herself a singing career! She made a comeback on Instagram with this photo saying: “I also have been busy (doing what I DO love) writing/making music, and I thought I’d rather give u guys dope music than have a lit Instagram.” Fair enough.
In 2017, Maroney took to Twitter to publicly say that she was abused sexually by former US Team Doctor Larry Nassar from the age of 13. These accusations came just a week after the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood was revealed. Maroney said in her statement that the abuse started at a Pre-Olympic training camp and didn’t stop until she left the sport. Nassar, who is in prison for other sexual related offences hasn’t responded in comment.