McKayla Maroney: ‘I’m not competing anymore’

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McKayla Maroney‘s first thought when she fell in the 2012 Olympic vault final was that she must go to the next Olympics to grab gold in her trademark event.

But Maroney won’t compete in Rio in August, announcing she’s moving on following a series of health problems that began before the London Games.

“I don’t want anybody to ever think that McKayla is retiring. I don’t even want people to use that word,” Maroney said in a GymCastic podcast interview from October that was published Wednesday. “The only difference is I’m not competing anymore.”

Her agent confirmed the news Wednesday.

Maroney won Olympic team gold and vault silver at the London Olympics. Her injuries had already started piling up, with a concussion sustained in a floor exercise fall on June 10, 2012, and a broken right big toe and a fractured shin.

Maroney said the toe injury was so serious that it was technically a broken foot and that she was told at her post-Olympic surgery, “You probably will never wear heels again, let alone do gymnastics.”

Before that surgery, Maroney competed on a post-Olympic tour with her teammates. On the second stop of that tour, Maroney fractured her left tibia on an uneven bars dismount.

“I thought that somebody in the crowd shot me in the leg,” Maroney said in a 2014 Inside Gymnastics video interview. “When your tibia fractures, it’s the loudest bone that breaks in the body. So I heard a gunshot, and it wasn’t a gunshot. It was my leg snapping, my tibia snapping. It didn’t even hurt.”

Maroney said she lost all of her leg muscle and her gymnastics skills in the six months off after the leg and toe surgeries. Yet she returned to the sport and repeated as World champion (over Simone Biles) on vault on Oct. 5, 2013, which ended up being her last competitive routine.

Maroney said she had knee problems at those World Championships and then underwent knee surgery on March 6, 2014. She said she also suffered from burnout and depression. She returned to training in 2015, but this time she didn’t come all the way back.

“You have to be so passionate and so in love with gymnastics to be able to get to the Olympics,” Maroney said in October. “When you start losing even just an ounce of that, I was just like, I’m not going to make it.”

Maroney said she ended her bid to return to the Olympics last summer.

“I just got really unhealthy again,” she said. “One day, I was just sitting outside and was like, why am I doing this?”

Maroney, who first enrolled in gymnastics classes as a toddler, remains one of the most recognizable London Olympians, first for her picture-perfect vault in the team final.

“It was just, like, godly,” Maroney said in 2014. “Like I really think that there was angels or something like that.”

VIDEO: Maroney’s near-perfect team final vault

Five days later, Maroney gained even more fame after her shocking fall in the Olympic vault final. She entered as a heavy favorite and the reigning World champion, but landed on her rear on her second of two vaults, which she said she had never fallen on. Maroney received silver behind Romania’s Sandra Izbasa.

“My first thought was, well, I guess I’m going to the next Olympics,” Maroney said in 2014. “And that made me mad.”

Minutes later, she reached Internet meme status for her “not impressed” facial expression on the podium.

“I remember doing the face for literally two seconds,” Maroney said. “Like, if you watch the video, it’s two seconds. And I remember thinking, did I just make a face? Because it’s natural. I do it all the time. I have pictures of me when I’m little doing it. I have it on my Mac computer when I’m like 13.”

VIDEO: Maroney earns vault silver at London 2012, does not-impressed face

She returned to her room in the Olympic Village that night and saw a text message from her dad.

“Back in the United States, people are talking about the face you made after vault,” she said her dad told her.

Maroney searched the Internet and found Photoshopped images of her looking not impressed next to NASA’s Mars rover, rainbows and Mozart.

She didn’t mind the meme so much as the fall.

“I was sad. I was upset. And I was not impressed,” Maroney said.

She reportedly broke down in the mixed zone speaking with reporters after the competition, her eye makeup running down her face.

“I couldn’t sleep for five days after,” she later said. “The fall just kept repeating in my head.

“If you ask me if I could go back and win a gold, I would say, no thank you. I love my silver medal, and I love what’s happened, and it’s made me a stronger person.”

“There’s definitely moments in your life that changed it, and that was definitely No. 1.”

Maroney is ineligible for NCAA gymnastics because she turned professional before the London Olympics. She said in October that she was pursuing a music career singing and playing instruments, which her agent confirmed Wednesday, and hoped to cheer on the U.S. at the Rio Olympics, possibly in person.

Three members of the five-woman 2012 U.S. Olympic champion have retired from international gymnastics.

Wieber, the 2011 World all-around champion, never returned to competition after the London Games. She attends UCLA, where she is a team manager but unable to compete because she turned professional before the Olympics.

Kyla Ross, the youngest U.S. Olympic gymnast since 1996, announced her international retirement Monday but will still compete in collegiate gymnastics at UCLA. She made the 2013 and 2014 World Championships all-around podiums but struggled last season, finishing 10th in the all-around at the P&G Championships in August.

Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas and Olympic floor exercise champion Aly Raisman returned to competition in 2015, were key members of the World Championships team in October and appear likely to make the five-woman U.S. team for Rio this summer.

The last female gymnasts to make back-to-back U.S. Olympic teams were Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow in 1996 and 2000.

“My end goal is for people to look at me, and when they say, ‘Do you know a gymnast?’ and for them to just be like, ‘Oh yeah, McKayla Maroney,'” Maroney said in 2014. “Just to not be forgotten.”

VIDEO: Maroney throws acrobatic ceremonial first pitch

As gold medalists struggle at Olympic Trials, disappointment sets in

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OMAHA — At the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, there is little room for error and, in some ways, less space to hide.

After finals races, those who don’t finish in the top two to make the Olympic team aren’t stopped for post-race TV interviews on the pool deck.

Instead, they trudge or limp past a green and gold flip-flop that will soon be autographed by those who have beaten them and made the Rio squad (in 2012, the canvas was a British phone booth).

Just beyond that is a U.S. Olympic backdrop with the hashtag #RoadtoRio.

And then, just before the swimmers descend two sets of seven-step metal staircases and out of view, they pass below another U.S. Olympic banner including a mini airplane. Presumably, the flight is headed to Rio de Janeiro.

These world-class athletes, many of whom have just failed in a four-year quest, must collect themselves in the minute or so between surfacing from the pool and reaching the end of those stairs.

At the bottom, they emerge from beside a small black curtain. They have now reached what’s called the mixed zone, the only area where both the athletes must pass as they exit the pool and the media are allowed access.

Many of these swimmers have decided in this short time span how to present themselves after not qualifying for the hardest team to make in the world.

“It’s really tough,” Missy Franklin said after finishing seventh in the 100m backstroke, an event she won at the 2012 London Olympics but will not race in Rio.

“I think I’m a little stunned,” Matt Grevers said after finishing third in the men’s 100m backstroke, an event he won in London but will not race in Rio.

“I know I could have done better,” Ryan Lochte said after finishing fourth in the 200m freestyle. He was the top American in the event in London, also fourth, but will not race it individually in Rio.

Lochte did, however, qualify for Rio in the 4x200m freestyle relay pool.

“I made it,” were among Lochte’s first words off that metal staircase. “I’m going to Rio.”

Not yet booked are Franklin, Grevers or 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin, who was eighth in the 100m back. Tuesday night saw a chunk of the 11 active individual U.S. Olympic swimming gold medalists come up short, but they will get more chances later this week.

Combined, Franklin, Coughlin, Lochte and Grevers own 104 Olympic and long-course world championships medals, with 57 of them gold.

Franklin, the four-time 2012 Olympic gold medalist who wants to become the most decorated female swimmer ever, came into this meet unsatisfied with the first half of her year. And largely the last two years since suffering back spasms at the August 2014 Pan Pacific Championships.

She was sluggish, rushed and nervous in her first two races here, the 100m backstroke preliminaries and semifinals. Coach Todd Schmitz hoped that Tuesday night’s schedule, having a 200m freestyle semifinal and then the 100m backstroke final 23 minutes later, would ease her. There was no time to worry. Just swim, recover and swim again.

Franklin swam well in the 200m freestyle, qualifying fourth into the final in an event she won at the 2013 World Championships. Franklin is no longer a favorite to make the Olympic team individually in the 200m free (Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith are), but Tuesday night’s result portends she will qualify for the Olympic team in the 4x200m free relay Wednesday night, as Lochte did.

“Right now I need to make the team,” Franklin said. “In whatever way.”

That would be a shocking statement for anyone to read if they haven’t followed Franklin since the 2012 Olympics, or better yet since she won six gold medals at the 2013 World Championships.

She has not been the same since the 2014 back spasms, and increased preventative care since, and transition from college to professional swimmer with a move from California back to her parents’ basement in Colorado in spring 2015.

She earned zero individual gold medals at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and 2015 World Championships, though she had gritty efforts for silver and bronze and encouraging relays.

Franklin said Tuesday night that she’s feeling more pressure than ever before.

“There’s more expectation,” Schmitz said of the now-professional Franklin, who has sponsors including GoPro, Minute Maid, Speedo, United, Visa, Wheaties, plus a book to be published for the Christmas season. “You know what, in 2012, there wasn’t commercials playing on the jumbotron like there is now.”

Frankin’s seventh-place time in the 100m back — 1:00.24 — was well off her 2015 World Championships best of 59.40. But 59.40 would have gotten her fourth place Tuesday night.

Earlier, Schmitz said he saw “the signature Missy” at the end of her 200m freestyle semifinal, the most encouraging sign of her Trials so far. She made up three tenths of a second on third-place Allison Schmitt in the final 50 meters.

“The good thing is that it’s only day three,” Schmitz said. “She’s got three more days of swimming. We’ve got three really good events coming up. We’re still rolling.”

Those events are the 200m free, where, again, Franklin is the fourth seed going into the final and not a favorite for an individual Olympic spot.

Then there’s the 100m free, which has always been the weakest of Franklin’s four events.

And finally the 200m backstroke, which is Franklin’s signature event. She is the world-record holder and 2015 World silver medalist.

“She has the ability to go into game mode and out of game mode,” Schmitz said. “Is she disappointed? Of course she is. There’s disappointment that can motivate you, which is different from the disappointment where you’re sulking around.”

Lochte was not sulking but limping after he made it past the flip-flop, hashtag and airplane, down the stairs and emerged from the black curtain.

The pain from an off-and-on groin injury that flared up Sunday was at “a seven or eight” out of 10.

Lochte gathered to smile and repeat a few times that he was proud to make the most elite team in the world.

“That time (1:46.62) was really bad for me,” he said (Lochte’s 2015 Worlds semifinal time of 1:45.36 would have won Tuesday). “I know I could have done better, but I’m proud I made the team.”

Would he have been disappointed with fourth place had he been healthy?

“I’m representing my country at the highest stage in sports, it’s a beautiful feeling,” Lochte answered, again not giving away frustration, if there was any.

This is certain: Lochte feels from different than in 2004, when he also finished fourth in the 200m free at Trials but was ecstatic to make his first Olympic team as a relay-only swimmer (he later made the Athens team in the 200m individual medley, which he will also hope to do here Friday).

“I feel great, but still kind of shocked,” Lochte, then 19, said in 2004, according to his hometown newspaper in Daytona Beach, Fla. “I’ve been waiting for this since I first started swimming.”

Coughlin and Grevers are more familiar than Franklin or Lochte with not making the top two.

Coughlin, who shares the U.S. Olympic female record of 12 medals that Franklin chases, was third in the 100m back at the 2012 Trials and sixth in the 100m freestyle. She went to London as a relay-only swimmer.

Her hopes this week are down to the 50m and 100m freestyles, where she is not favored to finish in the top two.

Grevers, after a breakout 100m back silver at the 2008 Beijing Games, failed to qualify for major international meets in 2010 and 2011.

The 100m back is the only individual event he has ever contested at a world championships or Olympics. Grevers is not injured like Lochte. He hasn’t had especially frustrating recent years like Franklin or Coughlin.

Grevers was near his best in this Olympic cycle in Omaha. He simply got beat by faster swimmers Tuesday.

Ryan Murphy and David Plummer swam 52.26 and 52.28. Grevers’ fastest time since the 2012 Olympics is 52.54.

Of the Olympic champions who came up short Tuesday, Grevers appeared the most emotionally affected. Or at least he chose to present himself that way more than the others.

“I think if I let it sink in,” he said, “I’ll be more distraught than I currently am.”

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Sally Pearson won’t defend Olympic hurdles title after injury, reports say

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07:  Sally Pearson of Australia competes in the Women's 100m Hurdles Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Olympic champion Sally Pearson has reportedly withdrawn from the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro because of a hamstring injury.

The Herald Sun newspaper and other Australian media reported Wednesday that Pearson, the 100-meter hurdles Olympic gold medalist in London four years ago and silver medalist at Beijing in 2008, injured a hamstring while training on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Pearson, captain of the Australian track and field team for the Aug. 5-21 Olympics, earlier said her preparation had been hampered by a “niggly hamstring.”

The 29-year-old Pearson only returned to competition on June 5, a year and a day after seriously breaking her left wrist in a racing accident at a Diamond League meet in Rome. She had three races in Europe before returning to Australia to work on her speed, skipping a scheduled run in Stockholm.

Athletics Australia issued a statement saying Pearson would hold a news conference at the Gold Coast on Thursday morning local time, and had no further comment.

Pearson’s agent, Robert Joske, did not return telephone or email requests from AP for confirmation. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Pearson would not be available to media until Thursday.

In a previous update on her condition, Pearson posted a message on Twitter on June 13, saying “I’m not injured! I’m healthy and happy! I came home 2 get another week of training in for my preps for rio! I hope this clears things up!!!!”

Six days later she posted another update on her website, writing how she’d arrived in Birmingham “full of hope and excitement” but was disappointed with her times “and also disappointed that my body was letting me down.”

“This has been a big year, broken bones, torn calf, degenerative Achilles and hammy problems and that’s just with me. Sometimes I wonder why I still continue to do this sport.”

Responding to her own question, she added that she had “the pure determination that I can overcome the setbacks and still deliver my best.”

Pearson had strapping on her left hamstring when she raced in Birmingham, and trailed home in seventh place in 13.25 seconds – almost a second slower than her personal best and a time she described as “disgusting.”

Immediately after the Birmingham race, Pearson cited her silver medal at the 2013 world championships only six races back from injury and her win at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as examples of her ability to overcome the injuries and the odds against her.

“Last year was a write off, let’s forget about that,” she said. “I know I’ve done it in the past and I think it’s very realistic that I can keep doing it this year.”

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