In a bid to make a second Olympic Team, she came up short. The 2008 Olympic all-around champion fell off the bars during her routines on both nights of the 2012 Olympic Trials. For most people in the venue and watching on TV, however, the lasting image of Liukin’s comeback will not be those falls, but when she hit the final routine of her career on the balance beam and was awarded her second standing ovation of the night.
NBCOlympics.com caught up with Liukin days after that special moment and asked her to take us through her emotional roller-coaster.
What went through your mind the moment you fell off bars the final day of Olympic Trials? Did you consider not finishing the routine?
At that point I kind of knew that there would be no second Olympics, but that’s not what it was about for me anymore. It was getting back up and finishing what I started.
The crowd gave you a standing ovation after bars. How badly did you want to go on and hit your beam routine and what were the nerves like before that final performance?
Of course [I was nervous], but there was just this sense of calmness and confidence that this beam routine was so easy for me. I knew I could do it in my sleep. That’s what helped me get through that routine. Just do this for yourself, do this for my parents, my fans, my friends, everybody. That’s what that beam routine was for – a little thank you farewell.
The crowd responded with a second standing ovation. Describe that moment.
Looking at the 18,000 people and seeing every single one of those people on their feet – it was so overwhelming. I remember just looking around the entire arena and trying to find somebody sitting down because I thought this can’t be happening. I’ve never seen this happen. I didn’t even get this kind of support when I won the gold medal four years ago. It was really heartwarming to see that people didn’t really care what my performances were like. They still loved me for me and who I am. That was why I got really emotional because I knew that they weren’t on their feet because I had just done an amazing beam or bar routine – it was because they knew that this career had pretty much come to an end and the support I received was just incredible.
Is there any lingering frustration knowing you are capable of doing that bars routine?
When I first watched the playback I was really confused on what happened. I felt like the first part was good and then all of a sudden I was on the floor. There was definitely a little bit of frustration, but I’m the kind of person who believes everything happens for a reason, so there was a reason I fell. I picked myself up off the floor and kept going and finished the competition.
Any second thoughts about the comeback?
Not making my second Olympic Team was not necessarily a failure to me. It was just the path that I was supposed to take and I know that I won’t have any regrets. That’s really what I set out to do at the very beginning – to give it a shot. I knew I’d be in London regardless, so just knowing now that I can go to London and be at complete peace of mind knowing that I tried.
Talk about the amount of support you have received.
I literally haven’t seen one negative thing. Not to mention the amount of followers I have gotten on Twitter over the past few days (30,000+). The outpouring of support has been absolutely amazing. If I was scared of anything – I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like disappointing people. I just really wanted to make everyone proud and by the responses I have received and the emails, calls and text messages – I feel pretty content with the way that I competed and the way that my career ended.
What did Bela Karolyi say to you before the competition and Martha say to you afterwards?
Bela actually came out to me before the competition and told me to not give up until it is over and please fight until the very end and his famous, ‘You can do it,’ kind of stuck in my mind. Martha was nothing but supportive of my entire career as well. It was emotional because we both had tears in our eyes and we were saying our final words on the gymnastics floor together.
What do you think of the U.S. women’s chances in London?
I truly believe that these girls are so ready to compete at the Olympic Games. All five of them are so mentally and physically strong and tough. Any obstacle that is thrown at them they’ll be able to take with grace and handle it just like they did [at 2011 Worlds] when there was injury after injury and they still proved to be on top. I have to be as neutral as possible since I will be sitting at the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) table, but in my heart I will definitely be cheering for those five girls.
Published with permission from Olympics Maza.