We all have the occasional awkward moment, but fortunately, most of us don’t have to worry about anyone broadcasting them internationally. Olympic gymnasts aren’t always so lucky. The eyes of the world are on these athletes as they go through grueling routines that show their athleticism and grace. But sometimes an uncomfortable or embarrassing mistake can get the gymnasts noticed for the wrong reason.
While the athletes are typically thought of for their strength and determination, there are plenty of funny moments to see. Whether it’s poor sportsmanship, a funny face, or a trick gone wrong, Olympic gymnastics is full of opportunities for awkward moments. And with plenty of networks broadcasting the games and social media constantly sharing photos, it only takes one slip-up to go viral. When you see their incredible routines, it might be hard to believe that Olympians are even human. These awkward moments are a great reminder that even the most impressive athletes aren’t really that different from us.
Olga Korbut had a shockingly bad start on uneven bars
Olga Korbut was a 17-year-old Soviet gymnast when she became famous for her performance at the 1972 Munich Games. The young gymnast impressed the entire world with her routines at the beginning of the competition. She was the first gymnast to do a backflip on the uneven bars, a daring move, which was later coined the Korbut Flip. Recalling the games later, Korbut said, according to her website, “It was amazing. One day, I was a nobody, and the next day, I was a star.”
After catching everyone’s attention at the beginning of the games, it was all the more shocking when she later had a disastrous performance on the uneven bars. She made three significant mistakes throughout the routine, dropping her to seventh place with a score of 7.5. The most blatant of these errors was the awkward start. Instead of pulling herself off the ground and starting the routine as she meant to, Korbut’s feet hung too low and skidded against the mat. She had to restart, and the embarrassing mistake seemed to throw off the rest of her routine.
Speaking about the moment to BBC, Korbut was as surprised by her mistake as the audience was. “I didn’t feel anything because I was shocked.” But, in a strange turn of events, the error made Korbut an even larger sensation. When the camera caught the young girl in tears, it endeared her to viewers around the world.
Savannah Vinsant became famous for her awkward faces on the trampoline
Savannah Vinsant was on Team USA for the 2012 Olympic Games, where she competed on the trampoline, as noted by the Team USA website. Vinsant has been doing trampoline routines since she was a young girl. During an interview with USA Gymnastics, she recalled, “I was 6 years old, and I joined a competitive gym that was involved with power tumbling and trampoline. Since day one, I was hooked on trampoline!”
While the word trampoline may have you thinking of kids playing in the backyard, it means a lot more in gymnastics. These athletes perform fantastic acrobatics high in the air using the trampoline as a springboard. Despite these impressive feats, Vinsant became most well-known for the awkward faces she made during her routine. It’s not surprising that Vinsant didn’t have time to think about the faces she was making while she was twisting in the air. However, a few snapshots of her awkward trampoline face became a bit of a meme after the competition.
Fortunately, Vinsant had a lot more to be proud of than any embarrassment that might have caused. At 19, she was the youngest trampoline competitor that year, the first American to ever qualify for the trampoline finals, and she finished sixth place in women’s trampoline.
One famous Shawn Johnson photo was more awkward than it appeared
Although Olympic gymnasts are incredibly powerful athletes, many of them are also just teenagers, and like most teenagers, they have their awkward moments. Shawn Johnson was only 16 when she competed at the 2008 Beijing Games, ultimately taking home gold for balance beam and three silver medals for team, all-around, and floor exercise, as noted by the USA Gymnastics website. Johnson and her teammate Alicia Sacramone became well-known for a photo taken of them during the games. In the photo, Johnson appears to be comforting Sacramone, who’d just finished a disappointing performance.
Assuming she was offering words of comfort to Sacramone, articles, like ones published by The Christian Science Monitor, were quick to praise Johnson for her impressive sportsmanship. However, years later, Johnson revealed the famous photo was not at all what people thought. While she was kind to her teammate, she was also talking about the popular series “Harry Potter.” Johnson told Yahoo! News, “It’s incredibly embarrassing, but we were talking about Harry Potter. It was always funny because people always wanted to ask me about this moment. About how I ‘brought the team together’ and how I ‘picked her back up.’ I never wanted to comment because it was so embarrassing.”
Specifically, she said, “Too bad Shayla’s not here with her magic Harry Potter wand,” referencing gymnast Shayla Worley who was “obsessed” with the series.
McKayla Maroney's 'not impressed' face
During the 2012 London Olympic Games, McKayla Maroney was the favorite to win vault. Before she competed, her coach, Martha Karolyi, seemed to be entirely confident in Maroney’s ability to take gold. “She’s the best,” she told the Associated Press (via HuffPost) simply before the competition. However, Maroney had a disappointing performance during the women’s vault final.
While her first vault was as close to perfect as everyone expected from her, the second left her dismayed. Maroney fell to a sitting position instead of sticking the landing, bringing her average score to 15.083 and dropping her to second place in the competition. The unexpected fall was awkward enough, but Maroney was also caught on camera during the medal ceremony making an unimpressed face. Maroney later told Inside Gymnastics Magazine that the face didn’t mean anything. “If you watch the video, it’s two seconds. And I remember thinking, did I just make a face? Cause it’s natural. I do it all the time,” she said.
But that didn’t stop the internet from making the small moment into a meme, calling it the “not impressed” face (via NBC Sports). It became so well-known that Maroney even posed with Barack Obama later on, both of them pulling the iconic face.
McKayla Maroney and teammates expected a perfect score
Though McKayla Maroney fell during her individual vault, it was a completely different story during the London 2012 team vault. Starting at a confident run, Maroney flew through the air and landed perfectly. After what appeared to be a flawless vault, the crowd erupted in cheers. Maroney rushed to hug her coaches and teammates, who were all overjoyed at her performance. In the video, you can hear one of her teammates clearly saying Maroney would receive a 16.5 (the highest score possible). Even the NBC commentators agreed with this assessment. Right after Maroney stuck the landing, one of the commentators said, “There was nothing wrong. Nothing!” Another commentator demanded a perfect score saying, “16.5. Judges, give it up.”
However, after the team and onlookers had confidently said she’d get a 16.5, there was a letdown. The judges deducted .267 points from Maroney, leaving her just shy of the perfect score everyone expected. It was slightly awkward to see the points after celebrating the 16.5 they assumed she’d get. But, despite the deduction, the team took gold, and Maroney had the highest vault score of the day. Many still believe she deserved a higher score. As the Bleacher Report said, “If there was ever perfection in the vault, this was it.”
Kerri Strug hopped on one foot after an injury
The video of Olympian Kerri Strug hopping on one foot after completing her vault looks awkward out of context, but it’s from a moment that has gone down in Olympic history. During the 1996 Olympics, Team USA and the Soviets were battling it out for first place in gymnastics. As they reached the final competition, vault, the U.S. had a slight lead. But, after lackluster vaults from the other U.S. gymnasts, including the youngest Demonique Moceanu falling on both attempts, that lead was slipping away. The pressure was on Strug to get her team the gold.
On her first vault, Strug landed badly, injuring her ankle. Strug was in incredible pain but knew she had to vault again for her team to win. Showing remarkable determination, the U.S. gymnast completed the second vault on her injured leg. The slightly awkward video of her hopping is after she stuck the landing despite her injury and before she collapsed to the ground in pain.
This defining moment gave team USA their first gold medal in the team all-around. Strug stood on the podium with her leg in a cast and still in obvious pain as they accepted the historic win, making for an Olympic moment that’s guaranteed to make you cry. Recalling the triumph, Strug told Elle, “I’ll remember the moment on the podium forever. I definitely had some contrasting emotions. I thought I was going to look like Mary Lou [Retton, 1984 gold medallist], and instead I’m crying. I have no pants on.”
Viktoria Komova's distraught reaction to taking second
It’s never comfortable to get emotional in front of a crowd. Unfortunately for Viktoria Komova, she had the embarrassing experience of having the world witness her televised reaction when she realized she came in second to Team USA’s Gabby Douglas.
During the 2012 London Games, Komova, a Russian gymnast, and Douglas were two of the top competitors. Komova gave an impressive floor routine, hoping to score higher than her competitor, but when her scores were announced, putting her just behind Douglas, the 17-year-old gymnast couldn’t contain her devastation. The cameras caught Komova crying bitterly as her teammate and coach tried to comfort her.
According to Reuters, the distraught gymnast couldn’t even stand to keep the silver medal on. She took it off quickly after dismounting the podium reportedly because it was too heavy. When asked about her feelings, Komova made no secret of her disappointment. “I’m still upset because I could have won gold but I just did not get it,” Komova said. “When I entered the arena, I thought I would win gold.” After the tough loss, Komova planned to compete in the 2016 Rio Games, but sadly that plan changed when severe back pain made it impossible.
Elissa Downie's painful fall on her neck
During the Rio Games, Great Britain’s Elissa “Ellie” Downie ended up in an uncomfortable position on the floor after landing wrong after a summersault. This was the 17-year-old athlete’s first time at the Olympics, and she’d already completed the bar and beam without trouble. Things took a turn for the worse during her floor routine. She didn’t rotate far enough for one trick and landed awkwardly on her head and neck. The crowd gasped audibly, and photos of her ungraceful landing circulated the internet soon after.
Just as shocked as the crowd was Downie’s sister and teammate, Rebecca Downie, who told USA Today, “It was pretty scary, and I’ve never really seen her do that. If she does it like that, she manages to at least get over and land on her back. So it was a bit of a shock to the system, and I’m just really glad she’s OK.”
Downie bravely tried to power through the rest of the routine but eventually had to stop. According to the Mirror, Downie said she felt a “crunch” when she landed and realized she was too dizzy to attempt her final tumble. However, after leaving and getting a check-up, Downie returned for the final portion of the day. She came back to compete on vault and landed both attempts nicely despite her prior injury. Competing in the last portion helped put Great Britain in third place going into the finals.
Gabby Douglas had to cling to the balance beam after a fall
Gabby Douglas, who is one of a few Olympic athletes who are unrecognizable without makeup, won big at 2012’s London Olympic Games. Not only did she help secure first place for Team USA, but she also won the individual all-around with a score of 62.232 (via USA Gymnastics). These victories broke impressive records, making Douglas the first American gymnast to win gold for both team and individual competitions in the same games. She was also the first woman of color from any nationality to become the individual all-around champion. After her big win, Douglas told The Washington Post, “You just have to not be afraid and go out there and just dominate,” adding, “You have to go out there and be a beast. Because if you don’t, you’re not going to be on the top.”
So, it’s no wonder that everyone thinks of Douglas as the champion she is, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had a few awkward mistakes in her illustrious career. One of these mistakes was during the same 2012 games while on the balance beam. Douglas was shaky at the start of her balance beam routine, checking her balance a few times. Towards the middle of the routine, she slipped on a landing, leading her to fall from the beam. She hung awkwardly with one leg and her hands on the beam before getting up and starting the routine again.
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