APNewsBreak: Liukin says she's going for London

October 8, 2011 - 3:40 PM
Liukin Returns Olympics

FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2008, file photo, U.S. gymnast Nastia Liukin performs at the uneven bars during the apparatus finals at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Liukin tells the AP she has resumed training in hopes of making the U.S. team for next summer's London Olympics. She plans to focus on uneven bars and balance beam, her best events, and isn't ruling out floor exercise. (AP Photo/Rob Carr, File)

TOKYO (AP) — Olympic champion Nastia Liukin is done being a spectator.

The gold medalist told The Associated Press on Saturday that she has resumed training in hopes of making the U.S. team for next summer's London Olympics. She plans to focus on uneven bars and balance beam, her best events, and isn't ruling out floor exercise.

Liukin has taken most of the last three years off since the Beijing Olympics.

"I don't know what's going to happen. But I want to go out there at the end of 2012 knowing I did everything I could and not have any regrets," Liukin told the AP. "I know it's definitely going to be a push and I know there are going to be days when I'm struggling and thinking, 'Why am I doing this?' But because of the passion burning inside of me, I think I just owe it to myself to see if I can do this."

Liukin, only the third U.S. woman to win the Olympic title, always left the door open to a comeback. But a hectic schedule of personal appearances, commercial opportunities and obligations as the International Gymnastics Federation's athlete representative made it hard to train on a regular basis, and she wasn't sure as recently as earlier this summer if she wanted to make the commitment another Olympic bid will take.

Even at previous gymnastics meets, she was conflicted at the prospect of competing again. Within the last two months, however, something changed and Liukin realized she still had that competitive spark.

"I feel happier," she said of her decision. "I haven't felt this happy with my life personally and my career in a few years now. When you feel that way, you feel like you're making the right decision — whatever happens."

She has been working out at Waseda University while at worlds, and will start two-a-day workouts when she returns home to Dallas. She is targeting the CoverGirl Classic next spring for her return to competition.

"The past few world championships, I haven't gone out of my way to wake up at 5 in the morning to get in a run or do stuff. I would kind of blow it off. 'Whatever. If I have time,'" Liukin said. "But now I'm going out of my way every single day to either wake up early or stay up later or drive 40 minutes to go work out for a few hours. That's the commitment it takes."

Liukin is the gymnastics equivalent of royalty, the daughter of a double Olympic gold medalist and a world champion in rhythmic gymnastics. She combines her mother's elegance and grace and her father's athleticism and steely nerves, and she left the Beijing Games with five medals. Along with her all-around gold, she won silvers in the team competition, uneven bars and balance beam, and a bronze on floor exercise.

Beijing was the 20th anniversary of father Valeri's Olympic success with the then-Soviet Union, and Liukin said she always felt those games were her "destiny." London will be her choice, her dream.

"I feel really different. I feel like a new person this go-round," she said. "... Everything is so different for me now, but I'm 100 percent committed to trying to make this dream of mine come true."

And Liukin said her father, who is also her coach, is on board — even if he may not have been initially.

Liukin said she began dropping hints to her father earlier in the summer, and his reaction at first was to say how glad he was that his only child was done competing. But he realized she was serious about a comeback when he saw her at the gym day after day after day, without any prompting from him.

And when he saw Liukin start working on uneven bars again, he created another "crazy" uneven bars routine for her. Liukin had one of the most difficult uneven bars routines in the world in 2008, and she and China's He Kexin tied in the event finals in Beijing, with He getting the gold on a tiebreak.

"Actions speak much louder than words and I think by showing him I was committed and I was going to gym every day and he didn't have to push me and he didn't have to make me do that, made him believe in it," Liukin said. "He was like, 'I really think you can do this but you have to figure it out, you have to give 100 percent.'"

Though she is appearing at the Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular later this month in Moline, Ill., she's curtailed her travel schedule beyond that.

Liukin hasn't told national team coordinator Martha Karolyi officially that she's coming back — she wanted to wait until worlds are over — but her announcement isn't likely to come as a surprise. When Liukin was at the world selection camp last month — she was on the selection committee — Karolyi walked in while Liukin was working on uneven bars one day.

Bars is the Americans' weakest event, and Liukin's return would give them a huge boost.

Not that Liukin is assuming anything.

"There's nothing guaranteed," she said. "The only promise that I can make is to give 100 percent and see where it takes me."

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Nancy Armour can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour