Back on top in Germany
True to her word, the two weeks between Nationals and Worlds proved to be enough time for Nastia to finalise her comeback. She arrived in Stuttgart a more confident athlete with the extra training numbers behind her. She competed exceptionally well in the preliminary round, aiding the US to a dominant team performance and also finishing as the second highest qualifier for the individual all around behind Romania's Steliana Nistor. In addition she earned places to compete in the both the uneven bars and balance beam finals. Nastia and her teammates (Ivana Hong, Shawn Johnson, Samantha Peszek, Alicia Sacramone and Shayla Worley) became only the second team from the United States to win a World Championship Team Gold Medal. They are also the first team from the United States to win the title off home soil.
Ultimately this achievement lead to the United States Olympic Committee naming them as Team of the Year 2007. In her individual finals Nastia finished fifth in the all around counting a fall from the balance beam, second on uneven bars and regained her World title on balance beam. With this performance Nastia joined Shannon Miller as America's most decorated gymnast in World Championship competition.
The Road Continues
Buoyed by her success at the 2007 World Championships, Nastia returned home and began making the adjustments to her routines she felt she needed for the Olympic season. After narrowly missing the gold medal on the uneven bars at the two previous World Championships, Nastia and Valeri were determined to come up with a routine that would make her stand out from the crowd. They certainly achieved this goal creating a routine with an A score value of 7.7. More than half a point higher than the routine she had competed in Stuttgart. Nastia admited that she could barely believe it possible until she saw the skills on paper. The changes were not limited to uneven bars. While her father was overseas with another WOGA national team member, Nastia also came up with a new skill to add to her balance beam routine. The skill, a salto forward piked, take off from one leg to one foot landing to scale, held for two seconds has been provisionally been given a D value. Although other gymnasts have competed a similar skill in tucked position, Nastia is hoping that the International Gymnastics Federation will name her variation the 'Liukin' if she successfully competes in World or Olympic competition. Her father Valeri has a number of skills named after him in the Code of Points.
Nastia returned to competition in March with a victory at the American Cup ahead of teammate Shawn Johnson. She debuted her new skills and combinations earning career best scores on two events despite having some problems with the main combination of her new bar routine. Soon after she was asked to join the team for the Pacific Rim Championships in San Jose. In her third appearance at this event she led the combined Junior and Senior team to victory and personally won the senior all around and balance beam titles and collected a silver medal on uneven bars. The long Summer of meets began with the VISA Championships in Boston in early June. Nastia entered the event as one of the favorites, determined to put the memories of the previous year behind her. Despite faltering on her open routine of the competition, she competed exceptionally well becoming the first American gymnast to score in excess of 17.00 for a single event (for her uneven bars in both prelims and finals) and broke 64 points for the all around making her the top scorer in the Finals.
Over the two days of competition she earned the silver medal in the all around behind Johnson and also won national titles on both uneven bars and balance beam. This performance qualified her to the Olympic Team Trials in Philadelphia in mid-June where Nastia's performance bought about the realisation of her dream, selection on the team for the 2008 Olympic Team.
Twenty years after Valeri had represented the USSR at the Seoul Games, the Liukin's returned to the Olympic Games. It was a dream realised for Nastia to be able to share the experience with her father and she arrived in Beijing feeling prepared and confident. The US women suffered some early setbacks with both Chellsie Memmel and Samantha Peszek suffering serious injuries after arriving in Beijing - Peszek just moments before the team walked out for their qualification session. The team rallied to easily qualify to the team final. Despite a fall on her uneven bars dismount, Nastia qualified to the all around final and three individual event finals (uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise). The US women began strongly in the team final leading after the first rotation. However the Chinese women, aided by a huge A score advantage on uneven bars and some uncharacteristic errors from the US women on beam and floor, won their first every team gold medal. Nastia and her teammates took the silver medal ahead of Romania.
Nastia opened her all around competition with an almost perfect performance on vault, "I felt like I was on a roll after the first event." The momemtum from her first event continued throughout the final culminating with a near faultless performance on floor exercise. When the final scores flashed, Nastia had scored more than half a point higher than her nearest competitor and realised her lifelong dream - to win the gold medal in the individual all around at the Olympic Games. "I was physically and mentally more prepared than I have ever been in my life. I was so ready to be there and to have the best performance of my life. And I was excited. I think that is the most important thing. I was excited and confident." Nastia was joined on the podium by teammate Shawn Johnson and China's Yang Yilin. After more than a year struggling with a serious ankle injury and with some even questioning whether she would make the trip to Beijing the all around victory was a defining moment. “It makes it so sweet knowing that I’ve been through so much with injuries and doubters. But it made me stronger and made me the person I am today. It’s been a long journey, but it’s been worth it.” The 1-2 finish represented only the third time in the history of the modern Olympics that two gymnasts from the same nation had taken the top two places on the podium. Nastia's win also represented healing of sorts for the Liukin family. Twenty years earlier, Valeri had come agonizingly close to winning the same title until a small mistep on a landing cost him 0.1 and with it the gold medal. "He was so close to winning that all-around gold medal. Just standing there on that podium, thinking about that, I hoped I made up for that, I hoped he feels just as proud as I am of it."
With three event finals to contest, there was little time to celebrate. Nastia began her event finals campaign on floor exercise. With two former floor world champions as teammates, few expected that Nastia would make the floor exercise final, let alone win a medal. Nastia grabbed the opportunity with both hands, produced her best floor routine of the competition and won a delightfully unexpected bronze medal. In fact, Nastia lists her performance in the floor final, alongside the all around, as the highlight of her Olympic experience. Sandra Izbasa earned Romania's only gymnastics gold medal while Nastia's teammate Shawn Johnson claimed her third silver medal. The uneven bars final was next. It was one of the most highly anticipated finals, certainly in gymnastics, if not in the entire Olympic Games. Nastia and co-favorite China's He Kexin drew to compete early in the final. Both girls performed strong routines earning the same score from the judges. However following the implementation of an IOC tie break procedure - which breaks down the B (or execution) score of each athlete - Nastia was relegated to the silver medal position. Yang Yilin won the bronze medal. On the final day of artistic gymnastics competition Nastia won her fifth medal - a silver on balance beam. Shawn Johnson ended her run of silver medals by winning the gold medal while China's Cheng Fei took bronze.
It was a dream Olympic Games for Nastia. She joined Mary Lou Retton and Shannon Miller as the only American gymnasts to win five medals in one Games. She enjoyed a whirlwind of appearances and accolades on her return to the US including being recognised as the FIG Athlete of the Year, Women’s Sports Foundation Individual Sportswoman of the Year, USOC Female Athlete of the Month (August) and USSA Female Athlete of the Year. She joined her Olympic teammates on a 37 city nationwide tour, appeared on television and radio shows across the country, was a guest at New York Fashion Week, launched her own line of clothing with Vanilla Star Jeans and even made a cameo appearance on her favorite television show Gossip Girl.