STUTTGART, Germany -- Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson each
bring a distinct brand of brilliance to the U.S. gymnastics team:
One's a tightrope-walking ballerina, the other a high-flying
And now, you can call them both reigning world champions.
Johnson practically jumped out of the gym to add a gold on floor to her all-around title at the world championships Sunday, while
Liukin steadied herself on the beam to take her first individual
gold of the meet and make up for her disappointing fall in the
"I'm still a world champion," Liukin said. "Yeah, it's not as
big or prestigious as the all-around, but a world champion is a
world champion and I'll never lose that title."
This medal, along with her somewhat disappointing silver on bars and the U.S. team's gold, give Liukin nine medals to tie her with
Shannon Miller as the most decorated American gymnast in the
history of world championships.
It's a mark Johnson might move in on if the 15-year-old from
Iowa sticks around long enough.
But first, it's the Beijing Olympics, where Martha Karolyi's
gymnasts will go in as the ones to beat.
They won seven medals this week in Germany, including Alicia
Sacramone's silver on the floor exercise after a small skid on a
landing cost her in the microscopic 0.025-point loss to Johnson.
Sacramone, the 2005 champion on floor who was denied a chance to defend last year because of a judging technicality, was fighting
back tears long after the event had ended.
"I mean, it's equally hard if it's your teammate or someone
from another country," she said of losing to Johnson.
Johnson didn't make any mistakes, and was her usual, beaming
self -- the smile most noticeable each time she landed squarely
after yet another insane tumbling pass. She's only 4-foot-8, but
you'd swear she could dunk.
She was motivated by her earlier performance on beam, where she fell twice to finish last.
"Floor was my last event and I wanted to go out as happy as I
came in," Johnson said. "I knew if I left myself with that beam
routine, I wouldn't have been as happy with myself. Ending on floor
and getting the gold was just amazing, and it got things back to
Other winners Sunday were Blanik Leszek of Poland on vault, Kim Dae-Eun of Korea and Mitja Petkovsek of Slovenia, who tied in
parallel bars, and home-country hero Fabian Hambuechen, who closed
the meet on high bar and received the usual rock-star treatment
when his winning score popped up.
The biggest surprise of the closing day was that China couldn't
keep its gold-medal rush going. After winning three Saturday, the
Chinese came away with only Li Shanshan's silver on balance beam
Sunday. All-around champ Yang Wei botched his first move on
parallel bars, ending his chance of winning a second straight gold
on that event. Cheng Fei scooted out of bounds on floor to lose her
shot at repeating there.
"This is a competition," Yang said. "Sometimes you win,
sometimes you lose. Very cruel."
It seemed cruel, as well, for Liukin, who came up short in her
second straight uneven bars final Saturday, losing by 0.05 to
Russia's Ksenia Semenova and leaving both Karolyi and Liukin's
father, Valeri, questioning the result.
That setback came a day after Liukin led the all-around halfway through, but dropped out of contention with a fall from the beam at
the end of her most difficult skill -- a handspring immediately
followed by two backflips. She finished fifth.
She also botched her beam dismount in team finals -- a mistake
the Americans overcame on their way to the gold.
So, in a way, winning on beam was the perfect way for her to
close things out. She added this gold to those she won in beam and
bars in 2005.
"I wanted to prove that those two little things were just
flukes and not me being a bad beam worker," Liukin said. "I
wanted to go out there and show I can make a good beam routine and
be on top of the world."
She was, and so was her mother, Anna, who temporarily halted her boycott of arenas where her daughter competes.
"It puts too much pressure on me, as a mom," she said. "Kind
of makes my stomach turn."
But when Nastia exchanged text messages earlier in the day with her mom, her heart leapt.
"I was like, 'I love you and we're going over,'" Liukin said.
"And she was like, 'OK, I'll see you there.' And I was like, 'Oh!
Meanwhile, Johnson's parents have been in the stands all week,
getting used to the idea of having the world's best gymnast in the
In her first real go-round with worldwide stardom, Johnson has come through. The whirlwind following her win in the all-around has
been intense, filled with receptions, presentations, ceremonies
and not a lot of sleep.
It made the effort Sunday that much more impressive, as did the fact that she persevered in arguably the most star-studded of all
the event finals -- with Cheng, Vanessa Ferrari, Britain's Beth
Tweddle and Sacramone all in the field.
And while Johnson's victory was something to celebrate, it did
make for something of an uncomfortable moment for it to come in
such a tight contest against her teammate. Sacramone was brilliant,
as usual -- shaking her hips, tossing her shoulders, nailing the
The difference was that little skid after her second tumbling
pass, one she tried unsuccessfully to cover up.
"My feet were just a little bit too sweaty, I think. I don't
know," Sacramone said. "Everybody makes mistakes."
After receiving her third gold of the week, further cementing
her status as The One to Watch in Beijing, Johnson handled the
awkward situation in typical fashion -- like a champion.
"Alicia worked so hard, she deserves everything," Johnson
said. "She deserves the gold just as much. I thought her routine
was priceless, couldn't be replaced. It deserved the same amount I