LONDON — McKayla Maroney didn’t need to look at the scoreboard. Neither did Louis Smith.
The Olympic gold medals they were expected to win were going to someone else.
“It happens. It’s gymnastics,” Maroney said. “You can’t be perfect, and sometimes things don’t go as you planned.”
Maroney wound up with a silver on vault after a rare fall Sunday, while Smith was on the wrong end of gymnastics’ tiebreak rules for a second straight Olympics. Despite finishing with the same score as Krisztian Berki on pommel horse, the Hungarian got the gold and Smith the silver because Berki’s execution mark was a tad better.
Still, Smith was hardly going to complain.
Four years after giving Britain its first Olympic medal in 84 years, he now has three. What’s more, gymnastics has become such a big deal in Britain that the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly known as Kate Middleton, had a front-row seat for the first day of event finals. Teammate Max Whitlock won the bronze on pommel horse, giving the British three medals — the same number they won from 1908 to 2004, before the British renaissance began.
“I could have been standing here without a medal, tears running down my face,” Smith said. “I’ve got a second medal here. I’ve got three Olympic medals. All those years ago, I never thought I’d go to the Olympics, so I’m very happy right now.”
In the other event final, Zou Kai won his fifth career gold medal, defending his title on floor exercise. He already had one gold from China’s victory in the men’s team competition last week, and has three more from the Beijing Games.
He’s got a chance to duplicate his Beijing three-peat on Tuesday, when he tries to defend his Olympic title on high bar.
“I was really young and inexperienced in 2008. I was just a kid who focused on the competition,” Zou said. “I’m different now and wanted to be on top of the podium.”
So did Maroney.
The defending world champion on vault was considered pretty much a lock for the gold medal, which would have given the U.S. women three in the first three gymnastics events. Maroney never makes errors in training or in competition, and no one in the world comes close to her execution. She won her world title last year by almost a half-point and topped qualifying at these games by a similar margin.
“I wasn’t focused on getting a gold medal,” the 16-year-old said. “I just wanted to prove to everybody that I could hit two vaults and I could try to do my best for USA.”
Her first vault was the difficult Amanar — a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the table and 2.5 twisting somersaults before landing. She got such great height off the table the fans in the first few rows had to look up to see her. Her form was perfect in the air — legs pencil-straight, body tightly coiled.
She took a hop on her landing, and came down out of bounds. But even with that 0.3 deduction, Maroney still scored 15.866, including a whopping 9.666 for execution.