McKayla Maroney botches her dismount during the artistic gymnastics women's… (Gregory Bull / Associated…)
LONDON — McKayla Maroney can seem severe.
She has a competition face that comes with a glare. But after she had an unlikely fall on a relatively easy vault Sunday, Maroney, who had coined the nickname "Fierce Five" for the U.S. gold-medal women's gymnastics team, was not severe or fierce but a startled teenager who tried her best to be a grown-up.
And then Maroney cried. Her tears melted her makeup and made her voice shake.
"I'm happy to be the Olympic silver medalist," Maroney said. "I really am."
The happiness, though, hadn't yet registered.
Sandra Izbasa of Romania was the upset gold medalist at North Greenwich Arena, scoring an average of 15.191 on her two vaults. Maria Paseka of Russia took the bronze with 15.050 points. Maroney's silver-medal score was 15.083.
In Sunday's first event final, the men's floor exercise, Zou Kai of China won gold, just ahead of Japan's newly crowned Olympic all-around champion, Kohei Uchimura. Denis Ablyazin of Russia got the bronze. American Jake Dalton was fifth.
And on the pommel horse, Britain's Louis Smith was a favorite — and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was in the crowd to cheer him on. But it was Hungary's Krisztian Berki who got the gold. Smith and Berki had the same total score, 16.066, but Smith lost out in the tiebreaking procedure. Max Whitlock of Britain took the bronze.
But the big upset was Maroney's silver.
The 16-year-old from Long Beach is the defending world vault champion and was the consensus Olympic favorite after she had scored 16.233 in the team competition on a vault called the Amanar, the most difficult vault women perform.
And after three of the six women who vaulted before Maroney in the eight-woman final fell or stumbled or even scored a zero (Canadian Elsabeth Black) for not hitting any part of the landing zone with feet before face, it seemed Maroney could be relaxed.
Instead, Maroney said she was nervous. After she fell, even though she was still in first with only Izbasa left, Maroney said she knew what she had lost.
"I already knew that I pretty much only had the silver medal," she said. "I really didn't deserve to win a gold medal if I fall on my butt. I'm still happy with a silver, but it's still just sad."
Before Maroney competed Sunday, her American teammate Gabrielle Douglas, the new Olympic women's all-around champion, called Maroney's Amanar vault "the beast."
"How she gets so high," Douglas said. "I'm so amazed. When she does it at camp, the [vault] literally shakes."
Maroney did a competent Amanar as her first of two required vaults. She had scored a 16.233 in the team competition, but Sunday there was more of a step on the landing.
Still, Maroney's score of 15.866 was the highest of the day. But her second, easier vault ended badly. Maroney didn't get her hands securely on the table, came off the apparatus low and landed on her heels before sliding to the ground.
Maroney appeared shocked, and she didn't even look at the scoreboard to see a 14.300 get posted.
"Honestly," Izbasa said through an interpreter, "the vault final is a war of the nerves and it showed."
Maroney didn't need the translation. She already understood.