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Thursday, June 28, 2012
Liukin improving, but will she make team?

By Amy Van Deusen

Nastia Liukin

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Nastia Liukin isn't used to being the underdog. Before the 2008 Beijing Games, she had already won four national all-around titles -- two at the junior level and two at the senior -- and nine world medals. She believed the 2008 Olympics were her destiny. Even when she struggled with injury in the lead-up to the Games, she was always considered to be a lock for the team.

This year, she's far from it.

Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around champion, is competing on only her best two events -- bars and beam -- at the Olympic trials this week. Over the two-day competition, she'll need to hit those four routines out of the park to have a chance at a trip to London.

By her own estimation, only one of those four was up to par three weeks ago at U.S. nationals, but she said those mistakes were all in her head.

"Everything I messed up on there was such a fluke mistake and my nerves coming out," Liukin said Wednesday after a training session at trials. "Somebody had told me that I hadn't competed bars since Beijing and I think that got into my mind a little bit."

She said she has been hitting "every routine, every day" and, in fact, looked much improved in Wednesday's practice, when she completed her full bar set and multiple beam routines, error-free. Even national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, the head of the selection committee, noticed the difference.

"She looks much more confident. She looks promising to me," she noted. Karolyi wouldn't speculate on Liukin's chances to make the team, but said she thought there were plenty of other good bar workers in contention for a spot, a none-too-optimistic comment on the odds of seeing Liukin in London.

For Liukin, though, just getting to San Jose has been an achievement. She didn't announce a comeback until late last year and has been sidelined at times by a shoulder injury that still has her popping Advil and working through pain. During the past eight months, she has called Karolyi several times, and said Karolyi urged her each time not to give up. Though more training time might have given her a better shot at the team, she doesn't think her body would have held up if she'd returned to the sport sooner.

Whether or not Liukin earns one of the five Olympic spots Sunday, she'll be OK with the outcome.

"I just want to leave it all out there on the floor, and give the selection committee something to think about," Liukin said. "I'm realistic about my chances ... but yes, of course, I really want to be on it."