Nastia Liukin recalls 2012 Olympic trials fall, concussion in ‘Finding My Shine’

Nastia Liukin
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Nastia Liukin says her 2008 Olympic all-around victory was not the defining moment of her life.

Rather, what happened four years later proved more of an inspiration for the gymnast’s memoir, “Finding My Shine,” which went on sale Tuesday.

In 2012, Liukin emerged from three years off and attempted to become the first U.S. women’s gymnast in 12 years to make back-to-back Olympic teams.

The comeback ended, for all intents and purposes, on a blue mat below the uneven bars at the Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif.

Liukin, now an NBC Olympic analyst, was competing on her trademark event and faceplanted on a release skill on which she also fell in her first national competition in 2002, when she was 12 years old.

She recalled that evening in this excerpt:

“Everything in 2012 hinged on two nights of competition. My bar routine was very difficult, but it was one that I had done thousands of times. I started out well and felt very, very confident. But about twenty-five seconds into the routine, I let go of the bar, flipped, twisted around, and when I came back toward the bar to grab it, I missed it and hit the ground hard, flat on my face.

In that instant, I knew my gymnastics career was over. Then a lot of things happened very quickly. After my body had absorbed the impact of the fall onto the hard mats, I pulled myself onto my knees. My dad, who had been spotting me rushed over. His first words spoke of his concern for me. “I’m okay,” I told him, rolling my neck around. I wasn’t really. My neck hurt and I later was found to have suffered a mild concussion, but I didn’t know that then.

One of the first things a gymnast learns is how to fall. While the fall looked and sounded worse than it was, we are taught to fall flat, to avoid landing on a limb and breaking it. In the very last moment I knew I was not going to catch the bar or my dreams for that matter.

I was only thinking about the fall, but I can imagine the conflicted thoughts that were running through my dad’s mind. As my coach and spotter, it was his job to catch me if I fell. But, if he touched me, even laid one finger on me when I could have actually caught the bar on my own, it was an automatic one-point deduction to my score. When scores are calculated in thousandths, a full point is a huge price to pay.

To catch me––or not? My dad only had a split second to make his decision, and up until the last instant even I thought I was going to catch the bar. I’ve watched the video of that fall many times, and if I had been in his shoes, I have to say that I would have made the same decision as he did. I am positive that even if he had caught me, I still would have fallen. Then we both would have gone down, and one or both of us could have gotten hurt.

I knew I had just thirty short seconds to get back up on the bars and finish my routine––if I chose to. Life is all about choices. I could have walked away, even walked out of the gym and all the way back to Texas, and no one would have faulted me for that choice. Well, no one but me. I knew that this was a decision I would have to live with for the rest of my life, and if I wanted to end my career on my terms I had to finish my routine. I also knew that if I completed this routine I would also have the courage to finish anything I ever started in my life. Besides, my dad had always taught me to finish what I started.

The crowd was eerily silent as I walked to re-chalk my hands. Then, when I walked back toward the bars they erupted into a deafening round of cheers. I had never heard anything like it before. The cheers were so loud that their echoes banged around inside my head and it was hard for me to think. I nodded at my dad and he boosted me back up onto the bars. And because I knew my career was over, I forgot about the competition. I forgot about the crowd, and my team. I forgot about the television cameras, photographers, and reporters. I finished that routine for my dad. He had been with me every step of the way, through all of the ups and down inside the gym and out. Whenever I faltered he’d always say, “Get up and go,” so I did. I finished that routine and I have to say, I enjoyed every second of it.

At the end, I landed on my feet. Then I saluted to the judges, and the now silent crowd burst once again into rousing cheers. I was in total shock at their reaction. And when I looked up into the crowded arena, I saw almost twenty-thousand people on their feet. I was getting a standing ovation! Even all of the other coaches were clapping for me. So many emotions were flowing through me that I didn’t know what to do. Tears formed and began to roll down my cheeks. I had just finished the absolute worst routine of my career, and these people still were supporting me. I waved to each section of the crowd and mouthed thank you. Their reaction was actually hard for me to comprehend. I loved what this wonderful group of spectators had done for me, but did not yet quite understand it. Then I saw my dad, went over to him, and hugged him for all the years of love and guidance that he had devoted to me.

I had never earned a standing ovation before. Not even when I won the all-around at the Olympics. I still find it very ironic that the first time people thought enough of my performance to stand up and clap for me was when I fell, splat, onto some very hard gymnasium mats.”

MORE GYMNASTICS: U.S. takeaways from World Championships

Gaon Choi breaks Chloe Kim record, youngest X Games snowboard halfpipe champion

Gaon Choi
Jamie Schwaberow/X Games
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South Korean Gaon Choi broke Chloe Kim‘s record as the youngest X Games snowboard halfpipe champion, winning at age 14 on Saturday in Aspen, Colorado.

Choi, the world junior champion, landed three different 900s in her third of four runs to overtake two-time U.S. Olympian Maddie Mastro. She then landed a frontside 1080 in her fourth run.

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

Choi became the first Winter X Games medalist for South Korea, a nation with a best Olympic halfpipe finish of 14th. She is six months younger than Kim was when Kim won the first of her five X Games Aspen halfpipe titles in 2015.

“I began snowboarding because of Chloe Kim and now almost being near her level when she was 14, it feels weird that I can see a possibility that I would go beyond her some day,” Choi said through a translator, according to organizers. “I’m already starting to look forward to the next Olympics.”

Kim, the daughter of South Korean immigrants, posted that she has known Choi for almost a decade.

“I feel like a proud Mom,” she posted. “The future of snowboarding’s in good hands.”

Kim, the only woman to land back-to-back 1080s in a contest, is taking this season off after repeating as Olympic champion but plans to return ahead of the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Mastro, who was 12th and 13th at the last two Olympics, landed her patented double crippler (two back flips) on two of her runs, but it wasn’t enough. She was the last woman to beat Kim at the 2019 U.S. Open.

Earlier, American Colby Stevenson earned his second X Games ski slopestyle title, one year after taking silver in ski big air’s Olympic debut. Stevenson, who was one millimeter from brain damage in a 2016 car crash, capped his first two of four runs with 1620s, according to commentators, taking the lead for good after the latter.

American Alex Hall, the Olympic slopestyle champion, was seventh.

Later, Zoe Atkin became the first British female skier to win an X Games title, taking the halfpipe in the absence of Olympic champion Eileen Gu of China. Atkin had two 720s in her fourth and final run to overtake Olympic bronze medalist Rachael Karker of Canada.

Atkin, the 20-year-old and Stanford student and younger sister of 2018 Olympic slopestyle bronze medalist Izzy Atkin, was ninth at the Olympics and never previously won an X Games medal.

Gu withdrew on Friday with a knee injury from a training crash.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

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Madison Chock, Evan Bates win historic U.S. ice dance title for figure skaters in their 30s

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates won their fourth national ice dance title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and made all sorts of longevity history.

Chock and Bates, fourth at the Olympics and third at last March’s world championships, totaled 229.75 points between the rhythm dance and free dance. They prevailed by 22.29 over Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, the largest margin of victory in a U.S. ice dance since it was shortened from three programs to two in 2011.

“This is probably the best we’ve ever skated in our careers,” Bates said on NBC. “I think that’s the statement that we wanted to make.”

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko took bronze but are likely to be left off the three-couple team for March’s world championships in favor of Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, last year’s U.S. bronze medalists who planned to petition for a worlds spot after withdrawing before nationals citing mental health.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the top U.S. couple at the 2022 Olympics (bronze) and 2022 Worlds (silver), retired after last season.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Chock, 30, and Bates, 33, who are engaged, became the first dance couple in their 30s to win a U.S. title in the modern era (at least the last 50 years).

Chock and Bates made the nationals podium for an 11th consecutive year, one shy of the record for any discipline.

Bates, who last year became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 13 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that breaks the U.S. record for a single discipline that he shared with Michelle KwanNathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

Those records matter less to Chock and Bates than what they’re hoping is a career first in March: a world championships gold medal.

They earned silver or bronze a total of three times. All of the teams that beat them at last year’s Olympics and worlds aren’t competing this season, but Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier defeated Chock and Bates at December’s Grand Prix Final, which is a sort-of dress rehearsal for worlds.

“If we don’t win gold at worlds, we’ll be disappointed,” Bates, whose first senior nationals in 2008 came when new U.S. women’s singles champion Isabeau Levito was 10 months old, said earlier this month. “We’ve set the goal for ourselves in he past and haven’t met it yet.”

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