Saturday, 8 October 2011

The (potential) return of Nastia Liukin.

So here we are then. In the middle of the qualification days at this year’s much anticipated world championships, Olympic all around champion Nastia Liukin ended years of PR, speculation and will-she-won’t-she  forum chat by announcing, finally, that she is training with the aim of the London 2012 Olympics.....

Screengrab from above link

The sentiment is great. I love Nastia Liukin, and I thought that her win in Beijing was more than just a win for her. I thought it was a win for artistry and beautiful gymnastics. A win for the elegance and grace of the sport in the face of a new code that threatened to crown botched amanars, chucked leaps and bent knees as winners. Her gymnastics was as light as a well baked cake. The British commentators bowled over by the precision of her blind landings. All in all, it was the performance of her life (minus the ever disappointing double front half from the bars, but I guess everyone has a chink in their armour somewhere).

So, she took the AA. Good.

But then came the bars final, which was (for me) one of the most disappointing moments in recent gymnastics history. Due to my Beth Tweddle obsession? A little. But mainly because there is no question in my mind that the gold should have been Nastia’s. I accept the issue with tie breaking at the Olympics, and do agree that there should be separation somewhere. I accept the issues of shared D scores. I accept that Nastia’s routine was not perfect. But what i refuse to accept is the idea that a code which places He Kexin’s routine above Nastia’s in is any way, well, acceptable. It just isn’t. (I will take this moment to point out that this is simply one person’s opinion and wish to cause no offence to He kexin fans, nor do I mean to cast a shadow over what is clearly a great amount of talent).

So, Nastia showed up with a stunning routine, performed it near perfectly, and went home with a 1st place silver. Scandalous.

I revisit these memories so as to wonder aloud: is it the bars final Nastia is returning for? A second stab at UB gold? A second chance to face He Kexin and win? Whatever the motivation, I can’t pretend to not be giddily excited to see how it plays out. I just pray that she is a) being truthful, and b)capable of getting back into good enough shape (although it’s clear she has been working out – she hasn’t looked as good as in this video for years).

One thing I do not enjoy, though, is the drawn out nature of the whole thing. The celebrity of it all. Nastia (or as is more likely, her publicity team) have been dangling the prospect of a return in front of fans for a long time, which I think is quite unfair, potentially dishonest, but most of all disrespectful to others forging their own career comebacks. Whilst Nastia constructed Barbie smiles at events and responded to comeback questions with retorts which were essentially “I am not sure yet if I can be bothered”, Alicia, Shawn and Chellsie were sweating it out in the gym making it happen. I didn’t appreciate the tone of these statements: the idea that a second Olympics was there for the taking should she choose to get up and grab it. It made the whole thing sound too easy: as if it was always going to happen.

And this attitude seems to continue. Nastia chose to make this revelation in the midst of the US team’s current struggles. With the loss of Alicia to the dreaded Achilles injury to add to what must have already been a fraught, nervous and inexperienced team, Nastia still stole some of the limelight with her “I’ve been popping into the gym” revelation. Might have been nice to let a few others bask in the limelight for a change. (Then again it is a bit rich of me to complain given that here I am, drafting a response piece. Nastia's PR machine clearly works, despite how Nasty it may seem).

Having said that, though, I am genuinely excited about the prospect of her return (even if it is just as a bars specialist). To see that 1.5 pirouette to Geinger layout a few more times would be brilliant (but a new dismount please). I guess time will tell.