Gymnastics has many moments of celebration and success, but it also has times where viewers watch in open-mouthed silence after a tragic turn of events. Whether it is because of an injury, unexpected fall, or something else entirely, here are 11 heartbreaking moments from recent gymnastics history.
1. Rebecca Bross’ knee injury in 2011
At the 2011 Visa Championships, Rebecca Bross injured her knee on a vault landing, and it was a horrible sight to see. She not only under-rotated the vault, but she was still twisting as she landed the skill, making it a recipe for disaster.
This injury forced Bross to sit out the remainder of the 2011 season, and likely impacted her performance at the 2012 Olympic Trials, where she failed to make the Olympic Team. For fans of Rebecca Bross, this was especially devastating, as Olympic Trials was the last place Bross competed gymnastics and dislocating her knee in 2011 had a lot to do with the end of her career.
2. Alicia Sacramone’s beam fall at the 2008 Olympics
Any gymnastics fan knows how shocking it was to see Alicia Sacramone fall off of the beam at the 2008 Olympics, a mistake that was one of the reasons the U.S. took second to China in the team competition. Sacramone had been named team captain due to her leadership and consistency, so reliving this moment is distressing to say the least.
3. Kara Eaker beam mount fall at the 2018 World Championships
Speaking of heartbreaking beam mounts, Kara Eaker fell on her beam mount during event finals at the 2018 World Championships. Her fall was especially disappointing because beam was the only event she competed on in the team final, and she delivered the highest score on the team on that event but could not hold it together during event finals. Video replay of the routine shows her standing next to the beam after the fall trying to mentally prepare to finish the set, and it is impossible not to viscerally feel her disappointment.
4. Mattie Larson’s bad luck on floor at the 2010 World Championships
Floor was always a strong event for Mattie Larson, who was on top of her game in 2010. She took first on the event at the 2010 U.S. Nationals and was expected to deliver solid routines at the 2010 World Championships on floor. In qualifications she fell on her first pass, under-rotating a double layout to her knees. As disappointing as this turn of events was, she did not get injured and was able to finish the routine strong. In the team finals competition, she fell again, this time on her last pass, a double pike. Her falls were costly, and the U.S. took second at World Championships that year, partially due to her falls.
5. Jordyn Wieber’s fourth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics qualifications
Jordyn Wieber seemed to be a shoe-in for the all-around finals at the 2012 Olympic Games, but in prelims, she unexpectedly placed fourth. This made her the third-place gymnast from the U.S., forcing the “two per country” rule into effect and preventing her from qualifying for the finals, after being favored to take gold in the competition.
6. Beth Tweddle’s bronze-medal bars performance at the 2012 Olympics
Beth Tweddle is known for her consistently strong bar work, and going into the 2012 Olympics, she wanted to place on the event in event finals. Tweddle still took the bronze and medaled on bars that day, but her routine was nearly flawless until the landing where she stumbled backwards and took two steps, costing her a higher spot on the podium. Although she has publicly stated that she is happy with her third-place medal, fans can’t help but feel a gut-wrenching blow when watching or rewatching this routine, knowing how it ends.
7. Chellsie Memmel’s beam disaster at the 2011 U.S. Classic
After a few years away from the sports, Chellsie Memmel returned to competition in 2011 and had a successful year until dislocating her shoulder on bars during Nationals. After she had shoulder surgery to repair the injury, she competed at the U.S. Classic, only on beam. This was supposed to be part of her road to making the 2012 Olympics but she fell twice on beam, scoring an 11.950.
Memmel petitioned to be able to compete at National Championships but was denied by the selection committee. This was a heartbreaking moment for the entire gymnastics community, as Memmel was an incredible gymnast with potential to add to the 2012 Olympic team and simply needed more time to train after her injury. She was never given the chance and this led to her retirement from the sport.
8. Samir Ait Said’s horrific vault injury at the Rio 2016 Olympics
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, French gymnast Samir Ait Said fell on his vault landing and the crack of his leg could be heard throughout the stadium. He broke both his tibia and fibula, during a vault he was expected to land. This outcome would have been heartbreaking anywhere, but especially at the Olympics where his performance really counted, this was horrible to see.
After pulling out of the 2012 Olympic Games due to an injury suffered at the European Championships, this injury, which derailed another Olympic dream, was especially difficult to see.
9. McKayla Maroney’s bummer of a vault at the 2012 Olympics
Anyone who followed gymnastics even a little bit leading up to the 2012 Olympics knew McKayla Maroney had a lock on winning the vault title at event finals. Unfortunately, on her second vault she fell backwards, landing extremely short in a seated position. This video is especially agonizing to watch as you see her face upon landing and walking back to vault a second time, knowing she did not perform to the best of her ability. Maroney’s first vault was so good, she still walked away with a silver medal, but that fall kept her from achieving her ultimate goal.
10. Aliya Mustafina’s knee injury at the 2011 European Championships
At the 2011 European Championships, Aliya Mustafina injured her knee on her vault landing. The injury itself didn’t look too bad from the viewer’s perspective, as it looks like a normal landing until she grabs her knee in pain. The reason it is such a heartbreaking moment is because it was during the women’s individual all-around final, and it forced her to sit out Worlds in 2011, where she wanted to compete to defend her title.
11. Dominique Dawes’ step out at the 1996 Olympics
During the all-around competition at the 1996 Olympic Games, Dawes fell on her second pass of her floor routine and stepped out of bounds on the same pass. This fall and step out of bounds was devastating because she was aiming for an individual gold medal, and this slip-up made that impossible.