Liukin excited, nervous to compete
Nastia Liukin is excited about competing for the first time since the Beijing Olympics.
A little nervous, too.
The Olympic champion will do one event, the balance beam, on Saturday night at the CoverGirl Classic in Des Moines, Iowa. The national championships are in her hometown of Dallas in just three weeks, and she wanted to do one meet beforehand to get back in the routine of competition.
"It's mostly for my mind," she said Friday night after her training session. "Just be out there to be under the pressure of the judges and the crowd and TV. I'm really excited about it, and obviously I'm going to be a little nervous. But it's exciting to be here and be in this atmosphere again.
"This is what I love to do," she added, "so I'm excited to get back out here."
Liukin will join Universal Sports' broadcast team after her one event. She'll also help her father and coach, Valeri, with the seven other WOGA gymnasts competing at the Classic, the last qualifier for nationals.
Fellow Olympian Samantha Peszek is also making her return to competition Saturday. Peszek will do vault and balance beam.
Since winning gold in Beijing, Liukin's life has been a whirlwind. She's crisscrossed the country for appearances, photo shoots and commercial opportunities. She had a front-row seat at Fashion Week, visited with Oprah and last week won female athlete of the year at the ESPYs.
All of those experiences have been incredible, but they took a toll on her training.
"I just wasn't able to get consistently in the gym," Liukin said. "I'd be at the gym a few days and then leave for a few days, and it was like starting over."
But gymnastics is still what Liukin wants to do. Loves to do. She's cut back on her traveling, and her routines are slowly taking shape. She plans to do uneven bars at nationals, and is working on her endurance for her floor routine.
And while she may not do the all-around at the world championships in October in London, it is in her future plans.
"It's getting there, slowly but surely," she said. "It's finally starting to get exciting. I'm actually here and competing. Not full out, but you have to start somewhere."
The last time Liukin competed, she was winning her fifth Olympic medal, a silver on balance beam. She admitted it was a bit strange to walk into Vets Auditorium on Friday, especially when she noticed some of the younger gymnasts staring and taking pictures.
"I was like, 'Why? I'm the same Nastia,'" she said.
Yes, but most gymnasts -- especially junior-level ones -- don't get a chance to share the chalk bowl with an Olympic champion.
Soon enough, though, everyone was focused on their own work and Liukin was just another gymnast -- just as she wants it.
"[Beijing] happened in the past and that was great. Now that I do want to continue, I can't ever tell myself, 'You're an Olympic champion and that's OK,'" Liukin said. "I have to set that aside, and I've made new goals for myself."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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