INDIANAPOLIS -- Nastia Liukin lived up to the hype.
Touted for the last few years as gymnastics' next big star, Liukin showed what all the fuss was about last night, rallying to edge Chellsie Memmel for her senior title at the US Gymnastics Championships. After nailing her vault, her last event, her father and coach, Valeri, swept her up in a big hug.
Liukin finished with 76.164 points, 0.367 points ahead of Memmel. Memmel, a double gold medalist at the 2003 world championships, scored 75.797 points.
Liukin, 15, won the last two US junior titles, and would have been a sure bet for Athens last summer if she'd been old enough. Valeri Liukin was a double gold medalist with the Soviet machine in 1988, her mother was the 1987 rhythmic world champion, and Liukin combines the best of both of them. She has her mother's grace and long lines, and her father's power and steely determination.
All of that was on display yesterday. Liukin had ground to make up after the preliminaries, where a slip and a wobble on the beam left her a disappointing third. She got right to work with her first event, the uneven bars.
Liukin does one of the toughest bar routines in the world, yet makes it look effortless. She flitted from bar to bar as if weightless, and her handstands were so straight it was as if an invisible cable was pulling her taut from above. Her score of 9.766 moved her ahead of Jana Bieger.
Memmel held her own on uneven bars. Flying from the low bar to the high bar, she came to a dead stop in a handstand without the slightest of wobbles. She was already grinning before she landed her dismount and her father and coach, Andy, pumped his fists in the air. She scored a 9.666, good enough to keep her in first.
Liukin put down another challenge with a dazzling routine on the balance beam. Unlike Thursday, when she wobbled and bobbled, Liukin was rock steady. She did a side somersault -- twisting a quarter turn while flipping in the air -- as easily as if she was on the flat ground. She whipped off her backflips as casually as most people do cartwheels.
Liukin scored a 9.8, her highest score of the competition, and Memmel couldn't match it. Not even close.
She lost her footing as she did a front somersault with a twist, dropping to the mat as the crowd groaned. She had another big wobble on a back handspring, and took a large hop forward on her dismount. She scored an 8.8 -- her lowest of the meet -- and fell behind Liukin.
Memmel also made a couple of mistakes on floor, taking a big hop forward on one tumbling pass and not getting all the way around on a dance move. They were minor errors, but she needed to be almost flawless to pass Liukin.
Alicia Sacramone scored a 9.9 on floor exercise, the first 9.9 by a woman at nationals since Shannon Miller on beam in 1996.