Louisa Thomas dissects the difficult and dangerous gymnastics vault that may be the US women's secret weapon in today's competition. 16-year-old American McKayla Maroney (seen above, from 2011) is the master, but the move was pioneered by a Romanian:
A 2.5-twisting Yurchenko — an Amanar — takes hardly 10 seconds. It is named for Simona Amanar, a Romanian who performed it in competition once, during the event finals at the 2000 Olympics. (A trick is named after a gymnast if she is the first to perform it at the world championships or Olympics.)
Because the Amanar earns much higher scores than other vaults, even if the gymnast doesn't stick the landing, it can be used to run up a team's scores:
Even without Maroney, the United States would probably be able to post scores on vault that would give it a daunting lead over its main competitors: Russia, Romania, and China. Not many gymnasts can pull off the difficult, high-value vault that Maroney performs, the 2.5-twisting Yurchenko. Most of the gymnasts who can are Americans. During the qualifications round on Sunday, the Americans hit one Amanar after another, the round-offs turning over like gears. The score that the team threw out (during the qualification round, four gymnasts compete on each apparatus, and the lowest score is dropped) was a 15.8 — a score that most gymnasts only dream of.
"Vaulting in some respects is such an unfair — " Al Fong, the coach of two members of the national (though not Olympic) team, said and then caught himself. "It's just one skill," he said. "All you've really got to do is be a monster who's got no fear, and good air sense, and all of a sudden you can tackle a vault that, even with a fall, can score higher than a double full.