McKayla Maroney Soars High For U.S., Now Aims For Individual Gold

McKayla Maroney made her approach to the vault in the women’s gymnastics team finals on Tuesday, hit the springboard and headed up… and up… and up. When she finally landed from a twisting, soaring vault Maroney had close to a perfect score and the U.S. women’s gymnastics team had a lead it would never give up.

The world champion on vault, McKayla Maroney is heavily favored to add an Olympic gold to her trophy case, the Associated Press reported. Her Amanar–the tricky, high-difficulty skill that only a handful of gymnasts in the world can pull off–was so flawless that team coordinator Martha Karolyi believes it deserved a perfect score.

“It. Was. The. Best. Vault. Ever,” she said.

The 16-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., was an important part of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team’s first team gold medal since 1996. McKayla Maroney was asked to set the tone for the competition as the U.S. team decided to lead off with the vault, its team strength. As the world champion and gold-medal favorite in the event, Maroney unleashed a run that rival Kerri Strug’s vault in the 1996 Olympics to guarantee gold for the Magnificent 7 that year.

The near-perfect vault paid off, giving the Americans a lead they would never relinquish.

“It was the best feeling to be up there and watch that flag go up,” Maroney said. “I’ve pictured it. And it was pretty close to what I pictured. It was just the best feeling.”

McKayla Maroney's vault sends U.S. to gold

For McKayla Maroney, athletics is in the genes. Her father Michael Maroney was a quarterback at Purdue University, the Los Angeles Times noted. One thing the 5-foot-2 McKayla didn’t get from her father was his height–Michael stands a full foot taller than his daughter.

The Olympic are far from over for McKayla Maroney. She will compete Thursday in the vault, and is a heavy favorite to take home the individual gold medal.