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Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson on why they didn’t talk for 8 years

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Shawn Johnson East titled it “Eight years of drama.”

East and Nastia Liukin, the two U.S. gymnastics stars of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said they went nearly eight years without talking after the Games but have rekindled their best friendship in the last two years.

“Right after the Olympics, we kind of had like a falling out, but it wasn’t like anything between us,” East said in a YouTube sitdown from Liukin’s Grander Summit in Boston last week.

“There wasn’t, like, an incident. Like, ever,” Liukin said.

Liukin and East, who went one-two in the 2008 Olympic all-around, were roommates in Beijing. Though they were the two women vying for the sport’s biggest prize, they called each other best friends.

What drove them apart after the Olympics was the narrative that they were supposed to be rivals.

“You couldn’t like both. It was like ‘Twilight,'” Liukin said of the popular late 2000s novel series that she read while in China. “As a 16- and 18-year-old girl … we were so used to any time somebody told us something, we believed it. We thought like that was right. Or that’s what was supposed to happen. Or that’s how we were supposed to act.

“Right after the Olympics, the entire world like plotted us against one another,” East said. “As soon as all-around hit, it was like Nastia or Shawn. … We kind of felt like, well, they don’t want us to be friends. They won’t allow us to be friends.”

Liukin said they didn’t follow each other on social media — yet stalked each other from that distance. Neither had each other’s up-to-date phone number.

“The more and more time that went on, I think we realized we wanted to fix it, but we almost like didn’t know how because it just had been so long,” Liukin said. “Shawn was the bigger person.”

East’s epiphany came while sitting in an airport in Dallas, near Liukin’s hometown. She typed a long email, as reported by OlympicChannel.com, she later described as “a love letter.”

“If you don’t respond, I totally get it,” East said. “Just know that I love you. I miss my best friend. I support you in everything you do.”

Liukin saw it at Gemma, a Bowery Hotel restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, while on a bathroom break from a New York Times interview. East said she received a response from Liukin 30 seconds after sending.

Liukin recalls it well. That’s partly because it came right after The New York Times reporter asked whether Liukin would be attending her Olympic teammate’s April 2016 wedding to NFL long snapper Andrew East. Liukin had not received an invitation.

“That’s when it really hit me because I was like, oh my gosh, this girl that I had been best friends with for so many years and this moment that’s about to happen in her life that is the biggest moment of her life, and I’m not going to be there,” Liukin said. “When [the reporter] said that, I was like, I have to fix this.”

Liukin took the bathroom break, received the email and cried. They met in New York a few weeks later. Liukin did attend the Nashville wedding.

“Sports is just such a small part of your life, yet a big part of your life,” Liukin said. “It brought us together. It drove us apart. It brought us back together.”

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Shawn Johnson engaged after throwing first pitch (video)

Shawn Johnson, Andrew East
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Olympic champion gymnast Shawn Johnson was in for quite the surprise after throwing a ceremonial first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game Friday.

Boyfriend Andrew East, a Kansas City Chiefs long snapper, got down on one knee and proposed to Johnson. They both attended Vanderbilt.

Johnson, 23, won balance beam gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympics and tried to come back from a torn left ACL to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team but retired before the Olympic trials due to her knee injury.

Three of Johnson’s 2008 Olympic teammates are also engaged (Nastia Liukin), married (Alicia Sacramone) or a married mother (Chellsie Memmel).

Catching up with Shawn Johnson

A recent history of U.S. Olympic gymnastics comebacks

Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman
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Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman seemed pleased with their return to competitive gymnastics in Italy on Saturday, their first meet since each won two gold medals at the London Olympics.

But history is not on their side on the road to the Rio 2016 Games.

Douglas, Raisman and McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross are trying to become the first U.S. women’s gymnasts to make back-to-back Olympic teams since Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow in 2000.

Since 2000, six U.S. Olympians tried and failed to return to the Games four years later. They included Olympic and World all-around champions, even gymnasts who won U.S. and World titles in the years leading into their squashed repeat bids.

The 2012 quartet fights not only a younger generation of gymnasts to make the five-woman 2016 Olympic team but also this history of the last six Olympians who attempted the same:

Nastia Liukin
2008 Olympic all-around champion

Liukin returned the season after the Beijing Olympics, placing fourth on the balance beam at the 2009 U.S. Championships. She announced a break from the sport two weeks later, citing not being in the physical shape she would like to compete and withdrawing from 2009 World Championships consideration.

Another two years passed before Liukin announced she was training for the 2012 Olympics. She returned to competition in May 2012. Her best finishes at the 2012 U.S. Championships and the U.S. Olympic Trials were sixth and seventh on the balance beam, respectively, missing the five-woman London Olympic team.

Shawn Johnson
2008 Olympic all-around silver medalist

Johnson went on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, and won, and then blew out her left knee in a January 2010 skiing accident. She took part in her first U.S. national team camp since the Beijing Olympics in November 2010 and returned to competition in 2011, with a best finish of fourth on balance beam at the U.S. Championships.

Johnson was the second alternate for the 2011 World Championships team and competed at the Pan American Games, placing second on uneven bars.

In June 2012, Johnson announced her retirement, four days before the U.S. Championships, citing continued problems with her left knee.

Alicia Sacramone
Ten-time World Championships medalist

Sacramone, the oldest member of the 2008 Olympic team, briefly retired in 2009 but returned to competition in 2010, winning the World title on vault. She claimed the U.S. balance beam title in 2011 but tore an Achilles tendon during World Championships training.

She endured, captured her sixth national title on vault and placed second on vault and beam at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. But she was not named to the U.S. Olympic team, which already had strong vaulters with all-around prowess.

Chellsie Memmel
2005 World all-around champion

Memmel competed at the 2009 U.S. Championships, placing eighth on balance beam, and then sat out 2010. She placed second in the all-around at the 2011 U.S. Classic, a U.S. Championships tune-up meet. At Nationals, she was eighth in the all-around and second on balance beam.

Memmel did not make the 2011 World Championships team but was selected for the Pan American Games. She withdrew before the Pan Am Games with a shoulder injury, which required surgeries in September 2011 and February 2012.

She competed once more, falling twice on the beam at the 2012 U.S. Classic, failing to meet a qualifying score and having her petition to compete at the 2012 U.S. Championships rejected.

Bridget Sloan
2009 World all-around champion

Sloan, the youngest member of the 2008 Olympic team, emerged as the world’s best gymnast the year after the Beijing Games. She won the U.S. and World Championships all-arounds.

She was limited by an ankle injury and a torn pectoral in 2010, keeping her from defending her U.S. all-around title. She still made it to the World Championships, where she placed fourth on the uneven bars.

In 2011, she joined Johnson on the Pan American Games team, which proved to be Sloan’s final international competition. Sloan placed 10th in the all-around at the 2012 U.S. Championships but suffered an elbow injury in warm-ups at the Olympic Trials and withdrew.

Tasha Schwikert
2001 and 2002 U.S. all-around champion

Schwikert, a 2000 Olympic alternate who competed in Sydney due to another gymnast’s injury, was the only member of the 2000 or 2004 U.S. Olympic teams who attempted to earn a spot at a second Games.

She captured U.S. all-around titles in 2001 and 2002 and was second to 2004 Olympian Courtney Kupets in 2003.

In 2004, Schwikert was third in the all-around after one of two days at the U.S. Championships, competing with a sore right Achilles. But she fell to ninth after the second day and was an alternate for the Athens 2004 Olympics. That time, she did not get called up to compete.

Catalina Ponor, three-time gymnastics gold medalist, eyes Rio 2016 Olympics comeback