By Tom Ehrich

I felt sorry for 16-year-old US gymnast McKayla Maroney last evening. She seemed to be surrounded by vultures.

Yes, she failed to stick her landing on the vault. Yes, she missed a gold medal. But it was the vultures who made me sad for her.

NBC had tricked her out as a teen seductress for some setting-the-stage footage. All that was missing was an 800 number on the screen. Her middle-aged male coach seemed to be pawing her. Cameras attacked her from every angle, looking beforehand for a glimpse of nervousness or hauteur – whatever fit their storylines — and after the fall, some juicy disappointment and self-loathing.

Yes, hers is a public profession, but these relentless intrusions went beyond bounds.

Her competitors were cool to her plight, of course. To be expected. Her teammates were far away in the stands.

So there she stood, alone at 16, her face a mask, pacing, fidgeting. NBC, tasteless to the end, made more of her waiting than it did of other gymnasts’ performing, and then sandwiched her post-vault misery between slabs of ads.

I’m sure a world-class gymnast has a stronger psyche than most 16-year-old girls. But I was saddened to see her reduced to sex bait and the Olympics in general reduced to inane storylines and jingoism.

I felt cheapened by NBC’s assumption that I, too, wanted to be a vulture