America’s Supergirl, Liukin, heading back to gym for show, then will decide on 2012

By Eddie Pells, AP
Friday, August 13, 2010

Liukin will head back to gym, then decide on 2012

HARTFORD, Conn. — Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin has spent time designing clothes, walking red carpets and, this week, sharing her expertise in the TV booth.

In the next few months, she’ll decide if she wants to be a full-time gymnast again.

The defending all-around Olympic champion has to return to the gym soon to get ready for the “Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular,” set for Oct. 3 in Allen, Texas. Around that time, she’ll also decide if she wants to ramp up the training to make a comeback for the London Olympics.

This week, she’s doing commentary for Universal Sports at U.S. nationals. It’s the first time she can remember being at one of these where she’s not competing. Before winning the Olympics, Liukin won two senior and two junior national titles.

“Kind of strange walking around up here wearing a dress instead of being down there in a leotard,” Liukin said.

Since her victory in Beijing, she has been juggling, much the way almost every Queen of Gymnastics has juggled newfound fame and opportunities after winning the gold medal. Her pet project has been designing and marketing a line of clothes for girls 8-12 — called Supergirl by Nastia.

She competed on beam at last year’s nationals, in part because it was in front of a home crowd in Dallas. But she struggled, realized the performance wasn’t up to her standards and decided she would take time off until she decided whether she wanted to fully commit again.

If Liukin is going to make a run at London, she figures she has to start getting serious by late this year, then back into competition early next year. The gymnastics show she’s preparing for comes at a great time.

“I have to get back in the gym to get ready for that, so it’ll give me a good idea of whether I want to come back full time,” Liukin said.

ABOUT THE KIDS: The Youth Olympics, starting in Singapore this weekend, will take place without an American athlete in gymnastics’ most popular discipline — women’s artistic.

The United States decided not to fill a spot allotted to it so another country could take the spot and use the games to develop a young athlete.

The decision came after months of confusion stemming from the International Olympic Committee’s desire to limit the number of credentialed coaches at the Games. The U.S. gymnastics team was originally allotted up to five spots for athletes — including rhythmic and trampoline — but only three credentials for coaching.

Eventually, those problems were solved, but too late to hold a qualifying process for a female athlete. And by then, USA Gymnastics was against sending a girl, anyway.

“The spirit of the Youth Olympic Games is supposed to be about universality and development,” USAG president Steve Penny said. “We didn’t really see any benefit from sending a 15-year-old over there for women’s gymnastics — one of our best athletes in the world.”

The Youth Olympics are for athletes ages 14-18. By the time they reach 15, most elite female gymnasts are well along the path for the regular Olympics. All the Americans who fit that category are competing at nationals this week.

The United States sent over male artistic gymnast Jesse Glen, rhythmic gymnast Polina Kozitskiy and trampoliners Savannah Vinsant and Hunter Brewster, who have the same coach. Penny said USAG wouldn’t rule out sending a female artistic gymnast in the future, but he thinks athletes from the other disciplines benefit more.

“Developing athletes is what the Youth Olympic Games are really all about,” Penny said. “The question is whether you need the top countries in the world competing in an event that’s supposed to be developmental.”

ROPES AND MATS: Raj Bhavsar officially announced his retirement after a 25-year career that included a spot on the 2008 bronze-medal Olympic team and as an alternate in 2004. Bhavsar, the 2002 NCAA all-around champion, will join Cirque du Soleil in November to work on a show slated to start next year. … USA Gymnastics was set to distribute $50,000 in prize money after Friday night’s men’s finals, with $10,000 going to the all-around winner. With sponsorship money at a premium and more athletes seeking training opportunities as the number of NCAA programs dwindles, International Gymnastics Camp in Stroudsburg, Pa., stepped in to help fund the prize pool. Money will go to the top 10 finishers in the all-around and the six event winners.

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