- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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SAN JOSE -- Nastia Liukin wrote a bittersweet ending to her decorated career Sunday night, walking off the floor with tears in her eyes after receiving a pair of standing ovations from the crowd at HP Pavilion.
It was far from a storybook ending for the 2008 Olympic all-around champion, but one of extraordinary grace and meaning. Liukin, competing only in bars and beam, struggled badly in her uneven bars routine; her legs folded on a handstand and then, in the evening's most startling moment, missed the bar on a release and fell face-down flat on the mat.
The crowd cheered her on as she gathered herself and finished the routine, standing to applaud in appreciation when she finished.
"It's not really something where I thought I should stop or not finish my routine," Liukin said. "I was ready to finish and that's how I've been taught [from] such a young age. I've learned from my dad and my mom to be a fighter."
Liukin closed her competitive career with a clean beam routine and strong dismount, and then her eyes welled as the sold-out crowd rose to its feet once again to acknowledge the end of her competitive career. She waved and wiped her eyes.
This experience wasn't quite the throwback that sponsors, fans and U.S. Olympic officials had likely hoped for, but Liukin said she has no regrets.
"I don't consider this a failure for me," Liukin said, wiping away tears. "There can be different highs in your career and I feel like I've lived through amazing highs now. Winning the all-around gold four years ago and having two standing ovations for my performances tonight was something I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Liukin's mistakes from Friday night, including a fall on the bars, took her out of contention for the 2012 team. The 22-year-old champion mounted a comeback less than nine months ago, but battled a shoulder injury and admitted Friday that a lack of stamina contributed to her mistakes.
Liukin will go to London as the athlete representative for the Federation of International Gymnasts (FIG) and plans to attend NYU in January. "This was another stepping stone toward the rest of my life and I'm ready to take it," Liukin said.