By Jacob Luft
Nastia Liukin received one gold medal for her amazing performance in the all-around gymnastics competition. She should have received three. Or four, even. Hey, why not a Phelps-ian haul of six?
Consider that the obstacles in her path to Olympic glory included the world's best competitors, starting with the incredibly dynamic teammate Shawn Johnson, who would win silver, and the best the champion Chinese women had to offer, Yang Yilin. That alone is a challenge as imposing as the Great Wall.
Now pile onto that the inherent disadvantage Liukin had of being the ripe old age of ... 18. If we are to believe all the talk the past few days from Bela Karolyi and pundits alike, then age is a handicap in this sport. Experience is outright fatal. Ignorance is bliss when the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It's better to be 15, 14 or 12 and not know what's really at stake. And don't get me started on how having womanly curves somehow makes it tougher to execute the spins and flips needed for high scores. That's how the Chinese beat us in the team competition, right? It wasn't just because they outperformed us in what I admit is a decidedly different format than last night's all-around; the team competition emphasizes specialization over a balanced skills set.
Getting back to the age issue, at 18 years old you have to wonder how Liukin even made it out onto the competition floor without a walker. But once her gold medal was clinched, Bela's bellyaching ceased. He must have found a CVS in Beijing where he could buy some TUMS. American journalists' pens suddenly spouted sugary sweet hymnals to Liukin's long-legged grace instead of acidic barbs about the evil Chinese sports machine.
It appears that Liukin's younger teammate, Johnson, is eyeing another run at the all-around gold that proved elusive last night. She wants to come back in 2012, when she will be 20! In gymnastics years, she'll be more likely to receive social security than a medal. And lord help her if the Chinese send prepubescent teens again (allegedly). What chance will the rule-abiding Western world have?
By then Liukin will be 22, comfortably retired in a nursing home of her choice.