Liukin shaky again but determined to go to trials

Liukin shaky again but determined to go to trials

Published Jun. 11, 2012 1:34 a.m. ET

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.''


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.