By Mark Lamport-Stokes
SAN JOSE, California, June 29 (Reuters) – Nastia Liukin’s comeback bid to gain a place at the London Games looked all but over on Friday after she faltered in her opening routine at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials.
The 22-year-old, who upstaged fellow American Shawn Johnson to claim the 2008 Olympic all-around title in Beijing, earned just 14.050 on the uneven bars after she had stalled on a handstand with her legs folding over.
Though she did not fall off, the gymnast renowned for her grace and poise lost momentum and crashed to the mat on her backside with her dismount.
Liukin ended the first day of the women’s competition just one off the bottom of the standings in 13th place but said she was simply delighted to be competing again at top level.
“I feel like I’ve been taking in every single moment of these past nine months and I know that this is kind of my last shot being almost 23,” she said of her decision to return to the sport in October.
“This is definitely the last push and whether or not it (making the London Games) happens, the main goal for me was to come back and … basically prove to myself that I could do this.
“So yeah, whether or not it is my last competition I’m just excited to be here.”
Liukin, who has won nine world championship medals in her glittering career, accepted Friday could have gone much better but she preferred to dwell on the positives.
“Of course I didn’t have the best routines but I proved to myself that anything is possible,” the Moscow-born gymnast said.
“I got back into gymnastic shape, I’m out there in a leotard and I am doing my routines from the 2008 Olympics where I was at the peak and prime of my career.
“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 be able to compete here,” she added, referring to her father and coach Valeri Liukin.
Five spots are on offer to the women at this week’s trials for the London Games and the odds of Liukin being among them look bleak heading into the final day of competition on Sunday.
“Of course any athlete will tell you when they don’t have a great performance, especially when it’s at Olympic trials, it’s disappointing,” said Liukin, who was world champion on the balance beam in 2005 and 2007.
“But at the same time you have to come back out there and (show) that you are a fighter and you’re not just going to give up.”