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"It's a feeling I don't think any father can describe," Valeri Liukin said. "I'm very proud of my baby."
"Just to know that he was so close to (the all-around gold) and didn't quite achieve it," his daughter said. "And I hope, you know, I cleared away any of those bad little memories for him. I hope that this definitely tops it. I have a few more to go, but it is an amazing accomplishment just to be here with him, out on the floor 20 years after he competed. I think it just means so much more to both of us. I don't know, just all the hard work paying off. All the injuries, tears, blood, rips -- everything."
She would have been a favorite for gold four years ago but she was too young, and she was immediately anointed as the front-runner for Beijing. But an ankle injury before the 2006 world championships hobbled her for almost a year, right about the time the younger Johnson was beginning to make her grand splash.
Once everybody's darling, Liukin learned how quickly everything can turn. When she struggled at the 2007 national championships and again in the all-around at the world championships, the criticism was fierce. She was washed up, some said. She should give up on the all-around, others said, concentrate on uneven bars and balance beam.
The harshness stung, though Liukin smiled and tried not to let on. She would let her performances speak for her.
Though the gold wasn't decided until the final routine, it was on uneven bars that Liukin made her mark.
She has one of the most difficult routines in the world, filled with intricate moves that are linked together to make them even harder. But her grace and style make it look easy. When she pirouettes on the high bar, turning her body all the way around not once, not twice but three times, she looks just like a jewelry box ballerina.
And when she moves from high bar to low, she seems to float, suspended in the air.
Her only flaw was a big hop forward on her landing, but it was minor and her score of 16.65 moved her into second place behind Yang.
Though Johnson is rock solid on beam, Liukin is simply breathtaking. From the moment she puts her fingertips onto the beam and presses herself up into the splits, her long legs unfurling like the petals of a flower, every movement is performance art.
In one front somersault she lands without ever putting one of her feet on the beam, brushing it back until her leg is fully extended behind her. It's incredibly difficult -- few other people even try it -- yet she does it as easily as a cartwheel.
Liukin knew she'd done well, smiling and blowing out her breath after she climbed down from the podium. When she saw her mark -- a 16.125 that moved her into first place -- she nodded as if to say, "OK, one more to go."
Now there's nothing left to do, nothing left to prove. Her gold medal says it all.
And she could have a few more before it's done. Liukin will compete on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor event finals, hoping to catch her father's total of four medals.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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