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Usain Bolt prances after victory; McKayla Maroney icy with 2nd-place finish

McKayla Maroney poses with her silver medal on

McKayla Maroney poses with her silver medal on the podium of the women's vault final of the artistic gymnastics event of the London Olympic Games. (Aug. 5, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

We’re into the second week of the Olympic Games, and now track and field events enter the mix. Right off the bat, you see that the runners have a very different competitive style from the swimmers, the swimmers a different style from the gymnasts, and so on.

Tonight, everyone’s attention was focused on Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, the “fastest man in the world,” who qualified for the final in the 100 meters; so did his countryman Yohan Blake (“The Beast”) along with Americans Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay. The sprinters are tough and aggressive, with a chest-bumping intensity that you don’t see in athletes from other events. Bolt went on to win the gold, with the second-fastest time in history for this race; he strutted and danced, cock of the walk, after his victory. “I’m always going to be No. 1, no matter what,” he crowed (and who could argue?). A very different style from the swimmers – even an all-time Olympic great like Michael Phelps — who seem positively mellow by comparison.

Then consider the gymnasts — in particular 16-year-old American McKayla Maroney, who was expected to take home the gold in the vault today, but had to settle for the silver, after landing on her rear — ouch — during her second vault. Where the male runners were expressive and loose, Maroney was as focused and sharp as a laser both before and after her event; if she was crushed by her disappointing performance, she barely let on. She still looked ready to close in for the kill, if someone would just give her the chance to go again.

Contrast Maroney’s sang-froid with Italian beach volleyball competitor Marta Menegatti, who was reduced to tears as the American powerhouse duo of Misty May-Treanor and Keri Walsh Jennings steamrolled over her and partner Greta Cicolari on their way to the semifinals.

For all the athletes there is just extraordinary pressure in these games, and how they handle it is highly personal and circumstantial. But the Olympians’ personalities and demeanor as they win or lose undoubtedly makes for much of the drama of the games.

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