As we inch closer and closer to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, TCG would like to welcome you to day three of our “15 in 15″ series, in which we introduce to you the fifteen women of Team USA who will be competing for five spots on this year’s Olympic squad. Today’s athlete is none other than 2008 Olympic All Around Champion, Nastia Liukin!
Our golden girl really needs no introduction. She’s been on the scene since most of our junior ladies were in preschool, and had a huge following even as a young elite, from both winning the big titles as well as her appearances in ads and in Stick It! on the big screen.
A young Liukin shines in this breathtaking Adidas ad.
With dozens of Olympic, World, international, and national titles, Liukin is easily one of the most recognized names in the sport today. She won gold on bars and beam and silver in the AA and on floor at 2005 Worlds, silver on bars at 2006 Worlds, gold on beam and silver on bars at 2007 Worlds, and then of course, bronze on floor, silver on bars and beam, and gold in the AA at the 2008 Olympics.
Following the Olympic Games, Liukin participted in the Gymnastics Superstars tour and had success outside of the gymnastics world, though she hadn’t officially retired. She competed a weak – for her – beam set at Classics and Nationals in 2009, though withdrew from the Worlds selection process and stayed away from the competitive aspect of the sport until she announced her comeback last October.
Though little was known about Liukin’s capabilities until her first appearance back at the Secret U.S. Classic in May, her comeback was one of the biggest stories of the quadrennium. I certainly didn’t expect much from an athlete back in training less than a year, but when I saw her compete that gorgeous beam routine I started getting excited. She also looked great training bars and suddenly, I was adding her to my dozens of potential Olympic team scenarios.
Liukin competes beam at the 2012 Secret U.S. Classic, her first competition back since 2009.
Then came Nationals. Liukin looked great in training – especially on beam, which looked remarkably improved since Classics – though I did notice that she wasn’t working full bar routines, she had big leg separation on many big skills, and was still working with a spot on her pak salto. I remembered the beam falls in training prior to competing at Classics and how everything then came together so nicely when it came time to compete, so I figured the same would happen here. And some individual skills on bars…they looked GOOD. The double front half dismount was especially phenomenal, looking better than it ever did in 2008.
But then after two failed bar sets and one disappointing beam set (where her hands grabbed the apparatus to stop a fall), my doubt came right back. As a long-time Nastia fan who rooted for her like crazy during Beijing, I hate to be flip-flopping so much throughout her comeback. I want to believe but as a naturally skeptical person, hearing her talk about only training full bar sets for a week while nursing a shoulder injury makes me leery. Some are calling her out, saying that she’s just back for the attention and the endorsements, but I don’t buy it. I see how badly she wants it. I see the determination when she walks into the arena to stretch twenty minutes before anyone else arrives and I see the anger in her face when she doesn’t live up to her own high expectations.
Despite strong training sessions, Liukin couldn’t piece her bars together in time for Nationals.
Trials will be interesting. I honestly don’t know what to expect, though I’m picturing everything from a miraculous multi-event-winning performance to her announcing her withdrawal the morning of the final day of competition. It’s been a drama-filled month so far and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that anything would be possible.
Does Liukin have a shot at London? I know that if she wants a shot, she has to hit two fantastic bar routines at Trials. That’s it. Her 2008 medals won’t save her, nor will her lovely beam. Liukin will go for bars or she won’t go at all. She has to make the case that her uneven bars are unmatched by any other specialist and that she’d be super valuable as a two-event specialist in a field of strong All-Arounders.
It really is impossible to gauge Liukin’s Olympic readiness when we still haven’t seen her compete full bar routines. With the team being named following the second day of Trials, she literally has only two chances left to prove that she can take her routines to the Games and contribute high scores to the team. From what we’ve seen, it’s hard to say anything but “no” regarding her chances. I’d say that her maximum potential is greater than most of the athletes competing for the five spots, and think that if the Olympics were in October, she might actually make it. But without that extra time in the gym, it’s going to be difficult for her to really have her act together
But at the same time…in an interview at the American Cup earlier this year, Liukin stated that she and her dad had a plan that would allow her to peak at Trials. She talked about always making tiny mistakes that would leave her second to Shawn Johnson throughout 2007 and much of 2008, but said it wasn’t an accident that her top abilities came out exactly when needed in Beijing. I doubt not having her dismount ready for Nationals was a part of this plan, but I’d like to be optimistic here and say that despite her mishaps last week, Liukin could still totally surprise at Trials. If a week was enough time to turn her beam troubles from Classics into non-issues, two weeks of nonstop bar training fueled by the anger at her Nationals performance? It could be epic.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
Photo by the Associated Press