Friday, July 6, 2012

Farewell To Champions: Nastia Liukin

Okay, I wasn't going to do a series like this, because it was becoming almost redundant, but I am incredibly bored and couldn't think of anything else to post.  Also, we have 3 weeks of nothing until London, except for more teams being named, and that I might need to recover from a shoulder injury, which may just be soreness.  So I am going to post a farewell for gymnasts as they retire, and who better to start with then our reigning Olympic AA Champion, Nastia Liukin.

                                                          Photo Property of Nastia's Instagram, nastialiukin
Early Days
Born in Moscow, Russia in then moved to the US, Nastia was born into a gymnastics family.  The daughter of a world champion rhythmic gymnast and the first man to do a triple back on the floor, her parents didn't want her in gymnastics, in fact they refused to coach her at first.  After a year or so, they stepped in and took her into the gym Valeri owned with a friend, Evgeny Marchenko, WOGA.

Junior Years.
In  2002, Nastia emerged into the elite scene, placing middle-of-the-pack 15, out of 28 juniors.  I haven't seen these routines, but based on her scores, she had a strong meet, except for on bars, which it looks like she either fell several times, or had a disaster and didn't finish her routine.  I believe it was the latter, but don't quote me on it.  The next year, 2003, was much better for a fourteen year old Nastia, as she claimed her first junior title, beating out future Olympian Courtney McCool by a huge .85, which was a large margin in the old code.  2004 saw her second and last junior national championship, as come 2005, Nastia would compete with the big dogs for not just a senior national title, but a world title.

                                                                       Photo Property of

After two juniorPh titles, Nastia was finally 16, and able to compete against Chellsie Memmel, the first of a largely anticipated battle between the two of them, ending later that year in Melbourne Australia at the world championships.  After an intense battle, Nastia edged Chellsie by almost 4 tenths of a point.  At worlds, the podium was switched, resulting with Nastia taking the silver by 1 thousandth of a point, a minuscule margin even in the old code, which most competitions were decided by a couple of tenths.  After taking another national title, she missed out on defending her AA silver due to a severe ankle injury that plagued her most of 2006, and even the beginning of 2007.  She came back however, to place second AA at nationals in 2007 behind Shawn Johnson.  At worlds, she fell off of the beam in the third rotation, resulting in a fifth place finish.

                                                               Photo Property of the official Beijing Olympic website. 
2008 was a magic year for Nastia, which she started of at the American Cup, which she won over Shawn Johnson, setting herself up to be the "Next Carly Patterson", who just four years prior won the same competition in the same arena (MSG in NYC) before winning Olympic All Around Gold, who coincidentally, went to the same gym Nastia went to, WOGA.  After placing second at nationals and Olympic Trials, she was named to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Team.  According to Shawn Johnson's book, Winning Balance, however, her spot was not as secure as was publicized by the media.  After competitions at the training center, she was named to the Olympic Team.  In Beijing, she helped team USA to the team silver, but had her sights set on an ever bigger prize than that, All Around Gold.  During the AA final, she had solid, if not great performances across the board and won the ultimate prize, AA gold, which was the one medal her father never had.

                                                       Photo Property of
After winning gold in 2009, Nastia had several of endorsements and sponsorship deals to carry out, but still competed beam at 2009 Nationals.  Although it wasn't the best routine, it was something, and the hometown fans loved it.  She was in the running to be named to the 2009 World Championship team, but pulled out for unknown reasons.  In 2010, she traveled the world, and not much was known about what was going on, except for her own Level 10 meet, the Nastia Liukin Super Girl Cup, which was won by Lexie Priessman.  Again, the gym world did not hear much from Nastia, until the 2011 Super Girl Cup, which was won by Grace Williams.  Later that year, she was on the selection committee, to name the 2011 World Championship Team.  During the World Championships, Nastia announced her plans to return for a shot on the US Olympic Team in London.  She made a very impressive return on beam at Classics, and then faltered at Nationals, hitting a quarter of her routines on bars and beam, her two events.  She advanced to trials, and shed a tearful goodbye to the 18,000 people in the HP Pavilion, who gave her two standing ovations on night two.  She handled the competition with grace, and said that two standing ovations was the best possible way to end her career.

Although her gymnastics career is finished, I'm sure Nastia will not be far from the gymnastics world.  I wish Nastia lost of love and luck in whatever she does next.
                                  Congrats on a great and successful career!   

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