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Nastia Liukin finally has the floor to herself

With Shawn Johnson not competing, Liukin is the biggest name in this week's U.S. gymnastics championships.

August 12, 2009|Diane Pucin

It is Nastia Liukin's show this year.

After sharing headlines and expectations with U.S. teammate Shawn Johnson before and during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, it is Olympic all-around gold medalist Liukin who is hogging the gymnastics spotlight this season.

While Johnson, who won the silver all-around medal, has been off winning "Dancing With the Stars," Liukin has gone back to the gym.

She will compete this week at the U.S. gymnastics national championships in Dallas on uneven bars and balance beam with the goal of earning a spot at the world championships in London in October.

The women's competition will begin Thursday. The men's competition begins today with Jonathan Horton, who was part of the bronze-medal-winning men's team as well as Olympic silver medalist on high bars, as the highest-profile men's competitor.

Liukin's fellow 2008 Olympic team members Bridget Sloan and Samantha Peszek are also in the field. Chellsie Memmel, who suffered an ankle injury and was able to compete only on uneven bars at the Beijing Olympics, has been urged by women's team coordinator Martha Karolyi to enter. As of late Tuesday, though, Memmel hadn't made a decision.

Mattie Larson and Samantha Shapiro, two Los Angeles-based gymnasts who are considered by Karolyi to be potential 2012 Olympians, are sidelined because of injuries. Larson has two sprained ankles and Shapiro is recovering from elbow surgery.

But this week in Dallas is planned as being the Liukin show. She trains in nearby Plano. Liukin, 19, is going to compete only on the two apparatus in a year that the world championships have only individual events but no team competition.

Liukin already has nine world championship medals, tying her with Shannon Miller as the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history. One of Liukin's goals is to leave London in October with at least one more medal. And she isn't discounting competing through the 2012 London Olympics either.

"Just because I accomplished the biggest thing in gymnastics," Liukin said, "that doesn't mean you have to call it quits. I still have the desire and motivation to accomplish bigger things."

With Liukin doing only bars and beam, Sloan and two almost-members of the 2008 team -- Ivana Hong and Jana Bieger -- are favorites for the women's all-around title.

Hong, who is from Laguna Hills and trains with Liukin, and Bieger are former U.S. world championship team members and were last seen in tears after missing out on the Olympic team.

Besides Horton, fellow Olympian Joey Hagerty is considered a strong all-around contender. Danell Leyva, a rising 17-year-old star who is competing in one of the most difficult high bar routines in the world, and Glen Ishino of Santa Ana are hoping to make an impact on the national scene for the first time.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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