Onto The Big Screen
2005 was not all about gymnastics competition for Nastia. Prior to the US Classic she was invited, alongside many other current and former elite gymnasts, to take part in the filming of a new gymnastics themed feature film. Nastia spent three days on the set of Stick It filming many action sequences as well as a small speaking part in the movie. The movie was released to US audiences in April 2006 before opening in many countries around the world. In addition to appearing in the movie, three of Nastia's routines are included as part of the special features on the DVD release of the movie. It was a fantastic experience for Nastia particularly as she hopes to pursue and acting career in the future.
Onward and Upward
2006 brought many changes to the sport of gymnastics. Since Nadia Comaneci first showed the world perfection at the 1976 Olympic Games, gymnasts throughout the world have attempted to emulate her achievements by scoring an elusive Perfect 10. This year, following a review of the sport by the FIG significant and all emcompassing changes to the Code of Points that govern the judging of the sport have been introduced. The "Perfect 10" has been replaced with an open ended scoring system that rewards a gymnast seperately on difficulty and execution. Just as at the end of any Olympic cycle, Nastia like most elite gymnasts needed time to adjust her skills and routines to the new code of points. On her return from Melbourne she wasted little time in getting back into training to start making the necessary upgrades and changes to make sure that her routines fitted the new code of points. So significant were the changes to the scoring system that this process will be ongoing for some time yet.
While Nastia did not compete in the early months of 2006, she joined her Melbourne teammates in a short tour to celebrate their history making achievements performing individual and group exhibition routines as well as answering questions and signing autographs for their fans.
Nastia returned to competition in Philadelphia at the American Cup in March. The event, which returned to its traditional all around format in 2006, was also Nastia's first hit out under the new code of points. She easily qualified through to the all around final where, despite a fall from beam, she won her first American Cup all around title as well as taking first place on uneven bars and floor exercise. A month later Nastia was selected for her first Senior Pacific Alliance Team and travelled to Hawaii to take on the best gymnasts in the Pacific Rim. The US women easily won the team title while Nastia and Chellsie Memmel fought out another intense individual competition eventually becoming joint All Around Champions. Nastia also won a gold medal on the uneven bars and a silver on balance beam. After the competition she was excited to be able to join members of the cast and crew from Stick It at the Los Angeles premiere!
In July Nastia travelled to Kansas City for the US Classic. Already qualified to the VISA Championships courtesy of her performance at the 2005 World Championships, she used the competition as an opportunity to test out her upgraded uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise routines. She also unveiled her brand new floor routine choreographed to Dark Eyes. Falls from the uneven bars and floor exercise held her to fourth place all around but she won a gold medal on balance beam earning her first score in excess of 16 points under the new code of points. Less than a month later her she won her fourth consecutive National title, her second as s senior, after holding off a strong challenge from Natasha Kelley (the 2005 Junior National Champion) and an uncharacterisitcally "off" second evening. Her performances in Minnesota included three scores over 16 points earning her the gold medals on uneven bars and balance beam. She was also named USAG Co-Athlete of the Year alongside Chellsie Memmel while Valeri collected the Coach of the Year award.
An Unexpected Interuption
Fresh from her highly succcessful National campaign, Nastia entered the selection process for the World Championship team with confidence. She easily progressed through the first selection camp and returned to the Ranch for the final verification camp ready to cement a place on the team for the Aarhus World Championships. Then disaster - an awkward landing on the tumbletrak resulted in an ankle injury that put her chances of competing at Worlds in severe jepardy. Intensive rehabilitation started immediately and while her participation in the Championships would be restricted to a single event, she was excited to be named on the team and to have the opportunity to contribute as strongly as she could to the US campaign to win the team gold medal.
It was a fighting performance from the US women in Aarhus with Chellsie Memmel also suffering an injury in the lead up to the event. Nastia landed her first dismount since the accident during Podium Training. The US women showed their power during the first round of the competition, beating all other teams by more than 2 points. Nastia earned the highest score on any event during the preliminary round to qualify for her second uneven bars final and the team entered the final confident that they would strongly challenge for the gold medal. As has been the case since the introduction of the 6-3-3 team final format, nothing is certain in a major team final. While the US team counted two falls in an uncharacteristically inconsistent day, the team from China were powerful and consistent and in the end snatched the gold medal. Nastia's second World Championships campaign ended when she earned a silver medal in the uneven bars final behind Great Britain's Beth Tweddle. Given the circumstances of the previous fortnight, it was hard to be disappointed to leave the event with two silver medals.
From Aarhus Nastia travelled to Geneva, Switzerland to make her second appearance in an FIG Gala celebrating her 17th birthday during her stay. When she returned to Texas, she underwent surgery on her injured ankle. She spent the rest of the year allowing her ankle to heal and preparing for the 2007 season.
A Long Road - The Journey Back
Although her surgery was a success Nastia's return to competition in 2007 proved to take longer than anyone expected. As anticipated she sat out the American Cup, attending the competition as a spectator for the first time in two years. Her recovery, while progressing slowly, was going well with her ankle responding to rehabilitation. Already training skills on beam and bars, she was even hopeful of earning a place on the National team tour to Europe in April. Then, seemingly without reason, as she was beginning to step up her preparation for the important meets of the Summer, her ankle began to swell after every training session. This setback hampered her ability to train as she had wanted, particularly limiting her ability to train anything on the pounding events vault and floor exercise. Reassured by doctors that her ankle surgery had been successful and her ankle was looking strong she persisted and made her return to competition at the Pan American Games, as a bars and beam specialist. The US performed brilliantly to win the gold medal and Nastia debuted her new uneven bars routine including her double front dismount, individually winning two silver medals on uneven bars and balance beam.
The race was then on to be ready to compete all around at the VISA Championships just four weeks after the Pan American Games. It was only in July that she seriously began to work back towards competing on vault and floor exercise but she was determined to have a chance to defend her National title and more importantly to show the world that she was still an all around gymnast. By her own admission Nastia entered the championships at about 80% fitness. Although she struggled throughout the competition, particularly on floor and vault, she was overjoyed to just be out competing across four events again and left San Jose with a bronze medal in the all around, her third straight national uneven bars title and a silver medal on the balance beam. She was also named as a member of the World Championship team and vowed that the two weeks between Nationals and the start of competition in Stuttgart would be enough for her to find the extra strength she needed to contend for the all around title at the World Championships.