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Gymnastics

With Olympics out, 14-year-old cashing in

Nastia Liukin wins three of four events in the junior competition.

By Associated Press
Published June 4, 2004

NASHVILLE - Clear some space on the walls, Nastia Liukin is bringing home another haul of medals.

Liukin won three of the four events in the junior competition at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Thursday, and was in first place going into Saturday's all-around final. Liukin, the defending champion, scored 37.875 points in prelims, more than a point ahead of Shayla Worley (36.825) and Bianca Flohr (36.700).

Liukin won the floor exercise, uneven bar and balance beam titles, just as she did last year.

"I work really hard toward every competition," Liukin said. "Standing up on the podium means all that hard work has paid off."

Though Liukin is one of the best gymnasts the United States has - she's won every meet she's entered since August, when she finished second in the all-around at the Pan American Games, and hasn't lost on U.S. soil since 2002 - she's not eligible for the Athens Olympics. At 14, she missed the age cutoff by one year.

"We talk about this," said Valeri Liukin, Nastia's father and coach and a double gold medalist at the Seoul Olympics. "Everybody in America talks about the Olympics and of course this is cool. But this is not the only thing in the world. There are other things."

Like world championships. Or the senior level.

This was Liukin's last nationals as a junior. She'll move up to the senior level next year, which should provide her with tougher competition.

"It's going to be a lot harder next year," Valeri Liukin said. "There's a lot more out there."

But Liukin was born for such a challenge. Her father was part of the mighty Soviet team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, winning two golds and two silvers. Her mother, Anna, was the world rhythmic champion in 1987.

The family moved to the United States in 1992, first settling in New Orleans with Evgeny Marchenko, a longtime friend. The Liukins didn't want their daughter to go into gymnastics, but they soon discovered they weren't going to have much of a choice.

"When she's just playing and she does better than your students," Valeri said, smiling. "If God gives (talent), you're not meant to take it away."

The Liukins and Marchenko had talked for years about opening their own gym. After getting their green cards, they moved to Dallas in 1994 and opened the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy. The gym is now one of the largest in Texas, and a national powerhouse.

WOGA has four gymnasts in the senior women's competition, including world all-around silver medalist Carly Patterson.

BLAINE GAME: Blaine Wilson's late scratch from preliminaries came after USA Gymnastics officials went through their selection process and determined Wilson could harm his chances of making his third Olympic team by competing.

Had Wilson chosen to compete in only one or two events, a broken routine on one of them could have been enough to preclude him from being one of the 14 gymnasts to qualify for Olympic trials.

That could have sparked him to file an injury petition, but it would have put USA Gymnastics in an awkward spot, having to buy into the notion that Wilson was injured even though he was competing. Wilson is 13 weeks removed from an injury to his left biceps.

After talking to USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi, men's program director Ron Galimore conferred with Wilson's coach, Miles Avery, and informed him of the risks of Wilson participating.

[Last modified June 3, 2004, 23:59:12]


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