Nastia Liukin: How 2012 US Olympic Gymnastics Selection Committee Led Her Astray
You could theorize ad nauseum—and many people have—about why Nastia Liukin decided to pursue a spot on the 2012 United States Women's Olympic Gymnastics team.
She wanted to test her physical limits. She wanted to prove her doubters wrong.
You might even make the insidious suggestion that she was in it for the money—out to squeeze a few more sponsorship dollars from the drying pulp of her gymnastics career.
Maybe so, but what about the reverse? Isn't it possible the sport wanted one more prime-time payday out of her?
It's certainly seemed that way this past month.
Let's wind the clock back to early June at Visa Nationals.
Liukin's results there were undeniably putrid. Both of her uneven bars routines scored under 14 points. Her beam work was a bit better, but not nearly of the caliber needed to secure a specialist spot on the U.S. team.
With two weeks left before Trials, Liukin didn't look like one of America's top 15 female gymnasts—much less one of its top five.
And yet, she was selected to compete in San Jose for an Olympic berth.
It could've been because National Team Director Martha Karolyi believed her fitness would improve or that she could add difficulty to her routine. It could've been because Karolyi thought Liukin's experience would fortify her in a big meet—or perhaps even rub off on some of her younger teammates.
Or it could've been because Nastia Liukin is a star, and her name was going to put butts in the seats and keep eyes on the television.
If star power was indeed the motivation, then the ploy worked. Liukin's "big comeback" was one of the weekend's leading storylines.
Even after Liukin struggled during Day 1—a performance that would have eliminated any other gymnast from contention—NBC's Tim Daggett gleefully reported that she was still in the hunt for an Olympic spot according to Karolyi.
Of course she was.
USA Gymnastics wasn't going to spike the story now, not when its beloved star was prepared to give one more must-see performance.
And give she did, though not nearly in the manner expected.
It should have never gotten that far. Liukin shouldn't have made Trials and she shouldn't have been convinced that she still had an outside chance at the Olympic team after her Day 1 failures.
But Nastia Liukin is a proud athlete, and she was prepared to go as far as the powers that be would allow. As long as they tempted her with the possibility of an Olympic spot, she was game to give it her all.
In turn, USA Gymnastics was all too eager to exploit the competitive drive that once made her great, luring her into a competition she was never fit to enter.
Champions deserve better.
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