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Nastia Liukin hopes to show she's ready to compete

The 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist has struggled at times in her comeback. How she does this week is just one of the story lines for the Olympic trials that begin Thursday in San Jose.

June 27, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Nastia Liukin stretches before beginning her first competition since 2009.
Nastia Liukin stretches before beginning her first competition since… (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated…)

SAN JOSE -- Nastia Liukin did a real landing off the uneven bars, with a little help from her father and coach, Valeri.

Liukin, the defending Olympic all-around gold medalist, made the decision earlier this year to make a comeback that has been halting at best.

She was barely able to complete routines in her signature event, the uneven bars, at the U.S. national championships two weeks ago, and she was not doing a dismount.

Liukin did her dismount Wednesday during podium training at the HP Pavilion, where the Olympic trials begin Thursday for the men and Friday for the women.

But Liukin did it with a lot of help from Valeri, who practically pushed his daughter up and over and off the uneven bars.

"I feel like I'm doing a lot better than even two weeks ago," Liukin said. "I think even getting here, to this point, is a win for me."

The only other event in which Liukin is competing is the balance beam. She is hoping her two routines will be enough to convince team coordinator Martha Karolyi that she will be able to help the U.S. win a team gold medal in London.

"Her energy level seems much more promising," Karolyi said of Liukin. "She showed it was much easier doing her things today. I was watching that."

Here are four other things to watch at this week's competitions:

Shawn-Nastia II?

Four years ago in Beijing, Shawn Johnson went into the Olympics favored to win the all-around title based on her gold medal at the 2007 world championships. But it was her teammate Liukin, who performed with more energy and confidence to win the most coveted gymnastics Olympic gold. And Johnson smiled through tears and accepted second place gracefully.

Jordyn Wieber will come to London as the defending world champion and U.S. champion, but it is Gabrielle Douglas who seems to be gaining momentum.

Except for an unusual fall off the balance beam, Douglas would have beaten Wieber at the national championships in St. Louis this month.

Team gold

It feels as if the U.S. women are miles ahead of the U.S. men, but actually each team has one Olympic team gold medal — the men in 1984 and the women in 1996.

So it is not crazy talk from the U.S. men when they speak confidently about adding a second team gold in London.

"We're catching up to the world," said Jonathan Horton, a member of the 2008 team that won Olympic bronze. "We're creeping up on everybody."

Broken but now bowed

McKayla Maroney, a 16-year-old from Laguna Niguel who won the world vault championship in 2011 just after becoming age-eligible for senior competition, might have seen her Olympic chase end at the national championships.

A day after Karolyi said that she hoped to see a powerful floor exercise performance from Maroney, the gymnast fell so hard on her back during a tumbling pass on floor exercise warmups that she suffered a broken nose as well as a concussion.

But Maroney has been back to training for a week and is at the trials. She says she feels good, and Karolyi liked what she saw Wednesday, especially that Maroney had no hesitation in her floor routine.

"I wanted to see there wasn't any psychological results from what happened," Karolyi said. "She just went out and did it."

On the bubble

This Olympics will be the first under new rules of the International Gymnastics Federation that allow only five gymnasts, instead of six, per qualified team.

"There are going to be some really good gymnasts left home," said Horton, the only man from the 2008 team in the mix for 2012.

"I do the math in my head all the time, trying to figure out how it will all work."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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