Liukin shaky again but determined to go to trials
Nastia Liukin didn’t even bother to look up.
The defending Olympic all-around champion didn’t need the
numbers on the scoreboard to tell her what she already knew: she’s
not close to performing her typically flawless uneven bar routine
at an elite level.
At least, not yet.
Liukin posted a score of 13.650 on bars in the final round of
the U.S. gymnastics championships on Sunday. A number far below the
standard she set at Beijing when she tied for first with China’s He
Kexin, only to lose gold on a complex tiebreaker.
Those days seem like a long time ago. Maybe that’s because they
are for the 22-year-old, who is looking to become the first
all-around champ to return to the next Olympics since Nadia
Comaneci did it in 1980.
Then again, Sunday was an improvement over Friday, when she
scored just 13.150 on bars during a largely lifeless and sloppy 45
seconds that showed almost no signs of innovative routines that
made her the best in the world. Despite her struggles, Liukin
earned an invitation to the trials in three weeks.
”I think it was not as I was hoped, but I still think it was a
pretty good performance for not competing in three years and not
competing bars for four years,” Liukin said. ”It’s definitely
such a mental thing of getting back in that competitive mentality
of not giving up or not relaxing until it’s completely done.”
A right shoulder injury slowed Liukin’s training and she again
opted to skip a big-time dismount for fear of aggravating it.
There’s no cure for her slightly torn labrum and rotator cuff other
than rest. That’s not much of an option with trials starting in 19
Liukin insists she’ll be ready. She really doesn’t have a choice
if she wants to be one of the five chosen to go to London. Looking
back, Liukin allows maybe she shouldn’t have waited until last
year’s world championships to announce her comeback.
”I think I didn’t realize how hard it would be to get back a
beam routine,” Liukin said. ”I was like, `Oh, I can totally do
this. I can totally be ready in time.’ … and bars has taken a lot
She felt nerves for the first time in forever this weekend, and
the fact the juices were flowing was enough for her to know she
made the right decision to give London a shot, even if it’s a long
”I knew after this competition was over that I had a lot of
work to put in but I think it was amazing to be able to go out
there and perform a bar routine,” she said. ”Yes, it wasn’t my
best or even close to my best, but … as much as I wanted to throw
up at times, it was amazing to know that I’m back in the mix.”
SATISFIED SACRAMONE: Alicia Sacramone can admit it now. She
wasn’t quite sure she’d make it back to Olympic trials after
shredding her right Achilles two days before last year’s world
The 2008 Olympic team captain silenced her doubters – including
herself – by winning gold on vault this weekend and finishing third
”I accomplished what I came here to do,” Sacramone said. ”I
showed people I was ready, that I can still compete. I think I
proved a lot of people wrong this week and I’m glad I finished
healthy and in one piece.”
Other than the usual emotional letdown following Friday’s
preliminaries, Sacramone’s right leg felt fine. She looked powerful
while thundering down the runway on vault and posted solid scores –
15.45 on Sunday – despite opting for slightly less difficult vaults
than others in the field.
The 24-year-old kept her two hardest vaults in her back pocket
and will consider taking them out at trials if she feels she has to
in order to make the team.
”That level difficulty, you’re not going to want to compete all
the time because it takes a lot of energy out of you,” she said.
”It’s something that even if I did make the Olympic team I
wouldn’t do it in team finals. I want a safe, consistent vault that
I know I can land.”
RETIREMENT PARTY: Shawn Johnson thinks people got the wrong
impression when she announced her retirement last week.
”People were like, `Are you going to hang out on the lake? Are
you going to move?”’ Johnson said, laughing.
The 20-year-old has no plans to buy a condo in Florida and play
shuffleboard. The 2008 Olympic silver medalist called it a career a
week ago because of a lingering knee injury.
”To say `I’ve retired’ is definitely strange,” Johnson said.
”But I can’t say I hate it. I’ve had a few nice days of relaxation
for the first time in years. It’s kind of a breath of fresh
Johnson is still trying to piece together what to do with the
rest of her life. Her doctors have given her a list of what she can
and can’t do physically. Gymnastics and skiing are on the ”no”
list. Dancing, however, remains an option. The former ”Dancing
with the Stars” champion would welcome the opportunity to get back
on the ballroom floor.
Until then, however, she plans to spend some time doing charity
work with UNICEF and joining the U.S. team in London.
”They’re all like my sisters,” she said. ”I want to be there
COMEBACK KID: Getting angry worked for Lexie Priessman.
Furious with herself after she fell off balance beam in her
first event, Priessman used her emotions to fuel a comeback and
earn the junior title at the U.S. gymnastics championships
”I was definitely very angry at myself and I knew I had to pull
it together over the last three events,” Priessman said.
She responded by posting the fourth-best score of the day on
floor exercise, second-highest on vault and finished the rally with
the top score on uneven bars. She finished with 116.400 points,
about a half-point ahead of Madison Desch. Simone Biles was
It was the first title for Priessman, who will move up to the
senior level next year.
”I think it’ll give her a lot of confidence,” said her coach,
Mary Lee Tracy. ”You’ve got to stay calm and focused because how
well you handle adversity is key. Everyone is going to encounter
Like missing the cutoff for the London Olympics by about three
Gymnasts have to turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible,
and Priessman turned 15 on Jan. 23. It’s a bummer, Priessman said,
but she’s trying to focus instead on how much better she can be
with an additional four years to train.
”She is passionate about gymnastics,” Tracy said. ”Her life
is gymnastics – by choice. That alone will keep her going.”
In the meantime, she’s got some celebrating to do.
”We always go out and get some ice cream,” Priessman said.
BAD TIMING: Having to sweat out a spot on the national team
wasn’t too much fun for Steven Legendre.
Neither was competing while fighting dehydration.
The three-time world team member came off high bar after his
forearms cramped up during preliminaries Thursday night. Though he
ate numerous bananas and got lots of fluids, he was still
struggling with his grip during Sunday’s finals. Though he tied for
second on floor exercise, his best event, he was sixth on vault,
another of his signature events, and was 10th in the
”It’s frustrating because training in the gym has been going so
well and I wasn’t able to go out and show remotely close to what
I’ve been doing,” Legendre said.
But he gets a second chance in three weeks at the Olympic trials
in San Jose, Calif. Legendre got one of the last five spots in the
field after a selection committee made him one of the wild-card
Legendre said he’s never experienced anything like he did
Thursday night – and hopes he never does again.
”I don’t really know how to explain the feeling other than it’s
not a good one,” he said. ”It’s a very powerless feeling.”
AP National Writer Nancy Armour contributed to this report.