US Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team: Say Goodbye to Nastia Liukin on Sunday

Damin EsperFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2012

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 29:  Nastia Liukin competes on the beam during day 2 of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team Trials at HP Pavilion on June 28, 2012 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Nastia Liukin will not be going to the London 2012 Olympics as a competitor. That was made pretty clear on Friday night.

Liukin, the defending Olympic all-around gold medalist, fell flat on her butt on her dismount from the uneven parallel bars at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials in San Jose, Calif.

The bars is an event that was considered her specialty, and Liukin was hoping to make the squad as an event specialist. However, her chances of making the five-member U.S. women's team, which will be announced after Sunday's final round, are nil.

That means that Sunday will be Liukin's farewell to competitive gymnastics.

There may be a tear or two shed by Liukin on Sunday, but on Friday, she sounded like somebody who understood that her time has passed in this bizarre sport where a 22-year-old is considered over the hill.

"I've always been taught, no matter how frustrated or disappointed you are, life moves on," Liukin said. "Honestly, whatever happens on Sunday, whether or not I'm on that Olympic team, I'll be in London either way, and I'm so excited for the rest of my life. I'll be moving to New York in January and starting school and taking on a whole new adventure."

That Liukin even made it to the trials was impressive. She had been out of the spotlight since winning the gold in Beijing. However, last fall, she decided she wanted to try to qualify for the U.S. team. There were fits and false starts and a rotator cuff injury along the way—but she made it to San Jose despite only getting one competition under her belt.

Believe it or not, she said making it to San Jose means the comeback was a success.

I feel like I've been taking every single moment in in these past nine months. And I know that this is kind of my last shot, being almost 23. This is definitely the last push and whether or not it happens, the main goal for me was to come back and prove to myself that I could do it.

Of course, I didn't have the best routines but I proved to myself that anything is possible. I got back into gymnastic shape, I got back in a leotard, I'm doing my routines from the 2008 Olympics where I was at the peak of my career. So no matter what the outcome is, I'm pretty proud of how far my dad and I have been able to get together as a team and just being able to compete here.

Whether or not it is my last competition, I'm just really excited to be here.

You can hear an appreciation in Liukin's voice, that of someone who truly understands that making an Olympic team is not life and death, as it sometimes seems to be for the younger competitors. Had one of the favorites fallen off the bars and earned a 14.050—10th out of 13 competitors in the event—NBC's cameras would have zeroed in on the tears; the realization that Olympic dreams were dashed.

Not Liukin. She's drinking in every moment, noticing things that eluded her when she was working towards the gold medal.

"It's not about the Olympics, it's about staying in the moment and appreciating every single day," Liukin said. 

Liukin continued:

I think especially when I walked out there and heard the amount of people screaming, and even looking into the stands and seeing posters and signs and people with 'Nastia' printed out on their shirts. I never saw that in 2008.

I don't know if I was oblivious to it or it just wasn't there. I really don't remember seeing it. To know the amount of fans that I have, and no matter how I do on the equipment, to know that they still love and support me for who I am and not just because of my performances, means a lot to me.

I definitely feel I enjoyed it a lot more than I maybe did in the past and maybe took things for granted a little bit more the last cycle of the Olympic Games. It's an honor to be competing at the Olympic Trials, and whatever the outcome is, I'm very excited and honored to be here.


Damin Esper is a contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.