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us gymnastics championships

McKayla Maroney already looking ahead to 2016

HARTFORD — McKayla Maroney is not doing this to impress you.

Sorry, that was so 2012.

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She gets it, really, she does. Even a year removed from the look that launched a thousand Internet memes, the two-time Olympic medalist gets bombarded with near daily requests to make the face that launched her from disappointed runner-up to budding star.

And most times she obliges. Hey, it was funny, even if it was misunderstood.

Standing on the podium in the O2 Arena, lips pursed to the side after a stunning fall on her second vault cost Maroney the prize she spent nearly her entire life chasing, she looked like the unhappiest person to ever have an Olympic medal draped around her neck.

Only, that wasn’t it. Yeah, she wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of standing a step below the spot she envisioned in her dreams. If she’s being honest, at that moment Maroney’s mind was thousands of miles away as the Romanian national anthem blared for gold medalist Sandra Izbasa.

‘‘I’m standing there thinking, ‘Man, now I’ve got to go to Rio,’ ’’ Maroney said. ‘‘I was already thinking about what I had to do for 2016.’’

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That included getting back into the gym as soon as possible. A dozen months removed from the best — and in a very public way, the worst— meet of her life, Maroney is at this weekend’s US gymnastics championships ready to take the first major step on a journey that she believes will end with ‘‘The Star-Spangled Banner’’ playing in Rio de Janeiro three summers from now.

Maroney captured the vault title at the 2011 US championships, a victory that propelled her to a world title later in the year. Looking back, she had no real idea what was going on at the time.

‘‘I came home and people were like, ‘How’d you do?’ and I was like ‘Oh yeah, I won gold,’ and that was kind of it,’’ she said. ‘‘I didn’t think ‘man, I’m a world champion.’’’

It wasn’t until one of the best vaulters in the history of the sport stumbled on the biggest stage that she realized just how deeply the fire burned. While she returned from the games to a hero’s welcome — even doing the ‘‘not impressed face’’ with President Barack Obama during a visit to the White House with her ‘‘Fierce Five’’ teammates — Maroney began plotting her comeback.

Her body had other ideas. Maroney stumbled during a dismount during a post-Olympic tour and endured three surgeries in as many months to fix a bone in her left leg. Doctors initially told her they doubted she would be able to compete again at the highest level.

Maroney quietly returned to the gym in January and went back to work.

Maroney plans to limit herself to floor and vault for now. She may one day try to take a shot at the all-around. Yet she’s also well-versed in the pitfalls that await when elite female gymnasts enter their late-teens and early 20s. If she stays within her comfort zone and out of the trainer’s room, Maroney can easily see herself doing this into 2016 and maybe beyond.

‘‘All I know is I love to do this,’’ Maroney said. ‘‘I’m going to do it for as long as I can.’’

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