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

days.

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

longer.”

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

shot.

”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

championships.

The 2008 Olympic team captain silenced her doubters – including

herself – by winning gold on vault this weekend and finishing third

on beam.

”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

air.”

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

for them.”

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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

Sunday.

”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

third.

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

adversity.”

Like missing the cutoff for the London Olympics by about three

weeks.

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

all-around.

”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

picks.

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.