I remember vividly the Qualifications at the 2011 world championships in Tokyo, when the Olympic AA champion stopped all the speculation and qualified a huge piece of information: she would indeed be trying her hand at getting to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Cue months of criticism and scepticism. Was it for the publicity? Was this a well-timed stunt to remain in the headlines of US WAG gymnastics? The world of gym forums and blogs alike trended a generally negativity-led retort to a Nastia Liukin they saw as not the beautiful athlete she had been, but the media machine she had since become.
I was no exception. Although happy to hear one of the greats of the decade returning, I held my views firmly rooted in the same scepticism (see: http://theepanel.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/potential-return-of-nastia-liukin.html for a flashback).
Fast forward 7 months, whizzing past the countless interviews, photoshoots, endorsements and gymnastics tours, we finally got what we were waiting for: cold, hard evidence of what Nastia had been up to and a real glimpse at her chances of making the team.
And all things considered, all videos watched and all catty opinions firmly put to bed it is time to say this: I take it all back.
VISA Championships Podium training videos from USAGymnastics.
Nastia looks fantastic. Sometimes you need to see something before your eyes to realise how much you missed it, and I have to say that from the first one armed pirouette from podium training at classics, I was pretty much sold. Liukin’s lines have not suffered from the steady march of time. Rather, I think in many ways she looks even better: statuesque, in great shape but not emaciated shape and in general resembling an accomplished, polished young woman still capable of producing beautifully presented gymnastics.
Sure, there are a few leg separations that weren’t there before, the Tkatchev is still the same and looking to beam, her switch ring and 2.5 dismount need work. But really, that is a short list considering what a lot of us expected. Now for some gushing....
THINGS THAT LOOK GREAT
Slightly less crisp than they have been, but the best forward giant pirouetting series I have seen in a good while. Liukin’s ability to maintain that shape and toe point through those skills is still wonderful.
Perhaps one of the most maligned gym skills amongst the top competitors in recent times, and the skill many people hoped to have seen the back of during this comeback. However, this dismount looks very, very good (check out the stick). Of course, Nastia was always capable of doing a great job on the double front half when taken in isolation, and it was clearly the pressure of a fatiguing jam-packed routine that prevented her from doing this dismount justice. Yet here is it, preceded by a fair amount of gymnastics, looking very good.
DID NASTIA DO IT RIGHT?
In the linked article above, I referenced how Nastia announced her comeback when her compatriot comeback queens were in the gym working hard. At the time they seemed like the girls taking the right route. But with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps camp Liukin had it right all along. We have watched the other Beijing Olympians drop like flies after achieving shortlived second winds of success. Perhaps timing her second peak exactly for London was the best strategy anyone could have hoped for.
Whatever the weather, and whatever the team, I can happily admit an end to any scepticism on my part. I think Nastia has come across fabulously in recent interviews, and these podium training videos are a testament to the hard work that has gone on behind closed doors.
Whether this spells a second trip to the games is unclear, but no matter what happens I am grateful to have seen Nastia Liukin on her best apparatus again, and eagerly anticipate her performance this weekend.