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Gymnastics champion Liukin spurred on by Beijing silvers
March 3rd, 2012, 1:35 am

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nastia Liukin treasures her 2008 Olympic gymnastics all-around gold, but the trio of silver medals she also took away from Beijing has fuelled a comeback bid to reach the London Games, the American has said.

Liukin has not competed in two years but has set her mind on winning a spot on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

"I had these visions about a year ago," Liukin, 22, told reporters on Friday ahead of the American Cup gymnastics meeting at Madison Square Garden.

"I figured I'll be in London either way, and I didn't want these thoughts of sitting in the stands, watching Team USA walk out on the floor and wondering, 'what if?' Those two words are the scariest words for me.

"I didn't want to have any regrets. I felt like I owed it to myself to try."

A taller, more solid Liukin than the Beijing version poured herself back into training after last October's world championships following a lengthy period promoting gymnastics and fashion interests, appearing on television, doing gymnastics shows and enjoying life.

"My training is back to normal, the way it was," she said, acknowledging some concessions to age by abandoning her weakest event, the vault, and focusing on her strengths.

"Because I'm not doing all four events this time around, instead of spending seven hours a day, it's probably closer to five hours a day. I run every single day and do extra conditioning."

Mary Lou Retton, whose 1984 Olympic gold in the all-around helped launch a long stretch of U.S. success in women's gymnastics, marvelled at Liukin.

"I respect the heck out of her for even trying," Retton told Reuters after posing with Liukin and Carly Patterson, the 2004 Olympic all-around champion, in what famed coach Bela Karolyi described as an American "bouquet of champions."

"She's got a different body, she's got a different mind," Retton said about the post-Beijing Liukin.

"Once you leave the sport a little bit and experience life outside the gym it's hard to get that frame of mind, that discipline.

"But if anybody can do it, she can. She's an extraordinary young athlete."

Liukin, who was expected to return to competition at the U.S. Classic in Chicago on May 26, said her London quest was purely for the challenge.

"I'm not doing it for media attention, not doing it for sponsors, not for money," said Liukin.

"It's because you absolutely love the sport."

Liukin, whose grace and artistry set her apart in 2008, said she has often watched tape of the Beijing performance.

"I know I'll never be exactly like how I was at the 2008 Olympics, that was my prime," she said.

"The Olympic finals in Beijing was my absolute best."

Liukin said she had to convince her father and coach Valeri Liukin, a double gold medalist on the Soviet team in 1988, that she was serious about making the comeback.

Now he is on board in the drive to reach London, and turn silver into gold.

The U.S. women's team, which also featured world champion Shawn Johnson, finished a narrow second behind China, and Liukin took second in the individual competition on bars and beam.

"Knowing we were so close to winning, that would definitely be a dream of mine to help USA win a team gold medal, and winning silvers in bars and beam, I feel there's a little bit of redemption in there," said Liukin.

"That's what's motivating me is those three silver medals."

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