Focus now on Women’s All-Around
BEIJING — Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin have moved on to the next big thing already.
They are the smiling co-favorites for the Olympic gymnastics all-around gold medal, a competition that happens Thursday night at National Indoor Stadium.
Johnson and Liukin politely insisted that winning a team silver medal Tuesday was fine, even if the U.S. had come into competition as favorites after defeating China at the 2007 world championships.
But glamour girls are made, after all, from the individual events. Olga Korbut, Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, Shannon Miller, Svetlana Khorkina, they’re remembered for signature individual moments and medals. And so that’s what Johnson, 16, and Liukin, 18, are aiming for.
The two Americans qualified first and second for the all-around. They have been diplomatically friendly all season while they’ve been teammates. That’s over now and if the team result wasn’t what they’d hoped for (China won), the competition is far from over.
Liang Chow, Johnson’s personal coach and the U.S. team coach, said Johnson and Liukin have had a “rocking” meet so far and pointed out that Johnson tied China’s Cheng Fei for best vault score Tuesday, that Johnson had the best balance beam score and that Liukin won the uneven bars.
But even as the Chinese team celebrated its first-ever Olympic team gold medal and was enveloped in an arena-embrace, a verbal hug from almost all the 15,000 fans on hand, another American, Alicia Sacramone, couldn’t wipe away her tears and paint on a smile as quickly Johnson and Liukin.
Sacramone, 20, who fell twice and stepped out of bounds once on her final two routines in the team competition, has one more event left, the vault final Saturday.
A medal would be fine and Sacramone will smile again, but while Johnson and Liukin were able to immediately put away the team performance, Sacramone couldn’t.
Her teary eyes are being offered as photographic evidence on message boards and Internet sites that Sacramone was the one to blame for U.S. winning silver instead of gold.
She fell on her mount on the balance beam, the first major mistake for the U.S. Four more falls were to follow — two by Sacramone but also one each from Johnson and Liukin.
Sacramone, who postponed her sophomore year at Brown University to concentrate on gymnastics this Olympic season, was flustered after being held up twice before the balance beam when there was a scoreboard glitch.
“The judges decided to hold me, and I guess I just let my nerves get the best of me,” Sacramone said. When the judges gave her the OK, Sacramone leaped onto the beam and fell off.
From there things tumbled downward for the Americans.
But, as Johnson said, there is never time to look back.
“I have to put my mind in a little box and ignore the bad things going on around me,” she said. “I’ve got to concentrate on myself too.”