Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 15, 2008: The Russian American

BEIJING - All the stories were about how disappointing it was that the U.S. women didn't win the all-around gold medal. Even though the home-standing Chinese had put on a breathtaking display and were virtually unbeatable on that night, the main story lines seemed to focus on the fact that the U.S. women had choked.

As the gymnasts turned to the individual all-around on August 15, the focus was on whether Shawn Johnson would win the individual all-around gold. After qualifying first overall, the diminutive, bubbly Johnson became the star of the storylines, people hoping for a feel-good story to distract from the "disappointing" silver.

After the first event of the All-Around - the vault - Johnson was indeed in first place, leading to American hopes of another Olympic champion. But she fell to third after the uneven bars, getting passed by China's Yang Yilin and her Russian-born American teammate Nastia Liukin.

Liukin was coached by her father Valeri, a former gold medal-winning gymnast for the Soviet Union, and though she had been competing with Johnson every step of the way in the leadup to the games, she was still viewed as the underdog.

Johnson put in a great performance in the balance beam, but Liukin was in full control at this point, topping her teammate by a 10th of a point. When Yang put in a mediocre performance, it was Liukin, not Johnson, who was in the lead. Johnson and Liukin then tied for the best score in the floor exercise, and when Yang stumbled again, the Americans had more than made up for their team silver with the gold and the silver in the individual all-around. It was only the fourth time two women from the same country had gone 1-2 in the all-around, and the first time Americans had done it. Liukin also joined Mary Lou Retton and Carly Patterson as American all-around champions, completing her feat one Olympics after Patterson.

After the individual all-around, the athletes turned to the individual event finals, where Liukin two more silvers and a bronze. With her five medals, she was the most decorated female gymnast at Beijing.

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