McKayla Maroney had done the impossible for most of her life, flipping through the air and performing tricks most people would dare. Then, in 2012, she did the impossible again. She was going to represent Team USA at the London Summer Olympics.
However, it wasn't her talent that made headlines, but one pretty impressive picture that wound up taking the gymnast on an entirely different path.
McKayla Maroney's Talent Grew With Her Reputation
From the World Championship to the Olympic stage, McKayla Maroney's talent grew along with her reputation as a world-class gymnast. But it would only take one split second for her entire world to change.
People wouldn't remember her as the athlete who won a gold and silver medal for Team USA a the 2012 Olympics. People were going to remember McKayla for something else entirely -- a facial expression in a photo that said, "I'm not impressed."
She Had No Idea What Was About To Happen
Ironically, McKayla didn't see the picture or subsequent fame coming at all! Obviously, she was way more concerned with what was happening in the gym than what was going on with her face during the Olympic Games.
But that one photo was about to change her life. It was about to toss her into the mainstream world of fame beyond the world of being an Olympian; something people tend to forget after years of watching other athletes go through the games.
From An Early Age, She Was A Ball Of Energy
So, how did one picture alter the course of one girl's life, especially considering that girl had been flipping through the air since she was just a kid? Seriously, watching McKayla's gymnastics career, spectators would most likely never have guessed she'd veer from the sport.
When she was young, the athlete was a bundle of energy. Her parents tossed her into gymnastics hoping that jumping and flipping through the air would calm her down a bit.
It All Started After She Watched Tarzan
During an interview with the Orange County Register, McKayla discussed when her parents first put her in gymnastics, stating that it all started with a movie. She said, "When I was younger, I would be watching Tarzan and running around on all fours. My mom was [like], 'I need to put this child in gymnastics. She's crazy.’"
Obviously, the move worked, as McKayla moved up the ranks in the sport very quickly, making it all the way to the Olympic stage.
At Nine Years Old, She Knew She Wanted Olympic Gold
It also didn't take long for the young girl to realize she had dreams of being an Olympian. During her interview with the Orange County Register, McKayla said, "I realized that I had a dream that I wanted to go to the Olympics, and I wanted to go as far as I could go. I thought I should probably move to a new gym and start thinking about the Olympics."
At the time, she was only nine!
Her First Event Was In 2009
The future Olympian's first official event was in 2009, just three years before she made the Olympic team. Isn't that hard to believe? And it didn't take her long to begin winning medals and standing on the podiums at competitions.
At the 2010 CoverGirl Classic, she came in second on the vault. Then, at the Visa Championships, she took home gold. And McKayla's winning streak didn't stop there by any means.
Winning Gold Was Second Nature
In 2010, McKayla went on to win both the vault and floor exercises and helped her team win gold at the Pan American Championships. The girl was pretty much unstoppable! Considering her immense strength and talent, it's quite a wonder how a photo and not her skills launched her to fame.
But, in two years, everything about McKayla's life was going to veer off path. And all it took was a single picture.
The Olympics Were Just Around The Corner
In the weeks leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games, Mckayla offered an exclusive insight into what attracted her to the sport of gymnastics. Speaking to the Orange County Register, she said, "I just loved doing stuff that most people can't do with their body."
"I can flip in the air and just fly on certain things. And I just love that feeling of working so hard on something that you really, really want and reaching that goal. It’s the best feeling."
Three International Vaulting Titles Were Already Hers
When the Olympic Games finally approached, McKayla had three international vaulting titles under her belt -- no easy feat! She had also recently walked away with a gold medal in both the vault and team events during the World Championships in Japan.
To say the young American gymnast was a favorite to win gold in the vault event would be an understatement. She was ready to bring home a gold medal, something she'd been working toward since she was nine!
Team USA Won Team Gold
McKayla's status as a favorite in the vault event was only solidified when Team USA, aka The Fierce Five, took home the team gold. It was only a matter of time before McKayla was going to stand on that top podium with her personal medal for the vault event.
She was ready. Or, at least she thought she was ready. All it took was one misstep, a photo taken at exactly the right time, and her entire life changed.
She Slipped, Fell, And Lost The Gold
Everything was going great for McKayla. Her first round on vault was pretty much flawless. There was no way she wasn't going to bring home gold. Then, during her second vault, she slipped.
That slip cost her landing, and she fell to the mat. This one mistake was enough for her competition, specifically Sandra Izbasa of Romania, to swoop in and take away her first-place standing. She wound up winning silver.
She Wound Up Winning Silver
Honestly, a silver medal at the Olympic games isn't horrible. But when an athlete is favored to win gold in their best event it must be hard to see someone standing in that coveted first-place podium spot.
And McKayla wasn't exactly scared to show people, including the press, how she felt about her gold medal being around someone else's neck. In fact, the entire world soon found out how she really felt.
McKayla Maroney Was Not Impressed
That silver medal was placed around McKayla's neck, but instead of smiling, she made a face that said, "I'm not impressed." It was just a split second, but a photographer captured her with attitude-laced eyes and her mouth twisted to the side.
Amazingly, the photo went viral! At first, the gymnast had no idea the picture was getting so much attention. To her, it was one of the many faces she's made throughout her life.
The Face Was Actually A Normal Expression
According to an interview the silver medalist did with Inside Gymnastics magazine, the "I'm not impressed" face was a normal face she's made since childhood. During the interview, she said, "I remember doing the face for literally two seconds. 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."
Her Father Told Her The Photo Went Viral
It might have been a normal face for McKayla, but the image took the internet by storm! McKayla actually learned of her face's popularity not by seeing it on the internet, but by her father telling her about it!
By then, people were photoshopping the "McKayla Maroney Is Not Impressed" face in various settings, including the NASA Mars rover landing, the Mona Lisa, and even over Mozart's face! It was getting out of control.
People Started Contacting Her Via Twitter
The weeks that followed were crazy. The photo was everywhere, and people were event sending personal Tweets to the Olympian. At first, she just wanted the photo and everyone to go away.
Then, she did something that would change her life. McKayla decided to go with the flow, giving people what they wanted. She decided to own the expression and began shooting pictures alongside other famous people, striking her now-iconic look.
She Retired In 2016
So, how did the photo change her career path? Well, it didn't, at first. McKayla continued to compete after the 2012 Olympics, finally announcing her retirement years later in 2016. And it's thought that her online fame and the viral photo inspired the former Olympian to move from athletics into the entertainment industry.
While gymnastics takes a toll on the body, and McKayla probably would have retired by 2016 anyway, going into show business wasn't the original plan.
Various TV Show Offers Came In
As with gymnastics, she thrived in front of the camera! In 2012, she had a six-episode part in the popular series Hart of Dixie, where she portrayed the character Tonya. It didn't take long before she appeared in other television series.
In 2013, she played the role of Ellie in the crime series Bones and appeared as herself in the Thirty Seconds To Mars music video for "Up in the Air." And, most recently, she was in a 2021 GEICO commercial where she sports her iconic expression.