FILE - This Aug. 5, 2012 file photo shows U.S. silver medallist gymnast McKayla Maroney during the podium ceremony for the artistic gymnastics women's vault finals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Maroney was a heavy favorite but stumbled on her second vault and inadvertently turned herself into an Internet sensation after photographers caught her animatedly pursing her lips while Romania's Sandra Izbasa accepted the gold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)
Updated: December 21, 2012 6:21AM
The face that launched a thousand Internet memes is laughing. McKayla Maroney can’t help it.
It’s all a bit ridiculous, really, the way the most agonizing moment of the 16-year-old’s life has taken on a life of its own.
Yet everywhere Maroney goes — talk shows, airports, hospitals, the White House — people want to see “the look,” the one that transformed the American gymnast from two-time Olympic medalist into crossover celebrity.
Michael Phelps can have all those gold medals. Maroney is fine with “the look.” At least she is now.
“At first I thought it was kind of like weird, but I never took it as a bad way,” Maroney said. “But now I kind of like it and embrace it because no Olympic athlete has ever had anything like that happen to them.”
It was, Maroney admits, a mistake. Standing on the podium in London three months ago, Maroney tried to keep it together while Romania’s Sandra Izbasa stood three feet away and heard her national anthem played. The gold medal in vault Maroney spent years chasing had turned to silver after a stunning slip in the finals.
Fighting back tears, Maroney pursed her lips in an expression that can be loosely translated as “OMG, I can’t believe that just happened.”
A star was born.
The picture became a sensation on the Internet, with one inventive designer photoshopping the image into various historical moments — the moon landing, the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima — and adding the phrase “McKayla Maroney is Not Impressed.”
It’s funny, to be sure, even if it’s not technically accurate.
“It wasn’t me being unimpressed, it was me being sad with myself,” Maroney said. “I’ve never fallen on that vault my whole life, and so I’m going to be upset.”
When the “Fierce Five” stopped by the White House last week, President Barack Obama insisted having his picture taken side-by-side with Maroney, “the look” earned him cool points with his daughters, Sasha and Malia.
“It’s so crazy,” Maroney said. “It kind of has affected my life. When people look at me, that’s what they remember.”AP