I have a theory about gymnasts and their way to handle a retirement.
Gymnasts are trained for a long time to be focused, to work hard, to have achievable goals, to continue through weal and woe days. This training not only makes them good in gymnastics but also forms their character. Gymnasts – as well as almost all elite athletes – don´t give up easily. Most of the gymnasts have two reasons to retire: First, they are forced to because of injuries. Mostly, it´s not only one injury – they often train in pain – but they receive multiple injuries. They feel painfully that their body can´t handle this hard sport and the “unnatural” movements anymore. And for “older” gymnasts, comebacks after long injury-breaks aren´t done easy while their body doesn´t stop to age. The second reason to retire might be the fact that they achieved (almost all) of their goals. For some gymnasts going to the Olympics and doing one final or the all-around final is the ultimate goal and a great conclusion to their career. Other gymnasts want to win an Olympic gold medal. Having more and more injuries at a higher age or/and having achieved the biggest personal goals might be very good reasons to retire from the sports of gymnastics. Well, that´s just a theory.
But thinking about the well-known 2008 Olympic team for the United States – Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Chellsie Memmel, Samantha Peszek, Alicia Sacramone & Bridget Sloan – and all the theories and speculations about the future of especially Shawn & Nastia, I came to the theory above and the totally hypothetical conclusion that Shawn Johnson will continue and Nastia Liukin won´t.
Why? Well, Nastia Liukin achieved everything she ever dreamed of. She is an Olympic All-Around Champion. She won several other Olympic and World medals, she has her own tournament named after her (Nastia Liukin Cup), she got a lot of prizes and when I saw her new internet page (Nastia Liukin – Tour of Excellence), on which you can book her for motivational speeches, my opinion was confirmed once again. Don´t get me wrong. I would love to see her back on the competition floor, but I think her achievements are way too complete & perfect.
It´s different with Shawn Johnson. She won nearly everything before the Olympics. But on this one critical night in Beijing she couldn´t beat Nastia. She wanted to be the All-Around Champion – that´s for sure – but she lost. The second place would be amazing for other gymnasts and a really good reason to end a gymnastics career, but for Shawn it must have been a disappointment. Everything is relative – even in gymnastics. If she wouldn´t have won beam and if she couldn´t name herself an Olympic gold medalist (on beam) I would be very sure about her comeback. Nevertheless, I think after her break and her short “tv & show career” she will come back in 2010 or perhaps 2011 to try another Olympics.
Alicia Sacramone is another unfinished chapter as we learned in 2009 when she announced her comeback. Not winning the team gold in Beijing and not having her best performances in the team final aren´t the best conditions for her to finish the sport she did nearly her entire life.
Bridget Sloan didn´t achieve her ulimate goals either. She was too young and didn´t have enough injuries (oh, that sounds a bit sarcastic, which isn´t my intention) to end her career after the Olympics. To be the only one who wasn´t burned out must have been a very good motivation.
And Samantha Peszek and Chellsie Memmel were both injured during the Games. Samantha proved her ability to perform again already at the Nationals 2009. She will do gymnastics in the future as we all know. I´m not sure about Chellsie, but her highlight might have been the 2005 Worlds. All the injuries and her age don´t let me think about a real comeback as an elite gymnast.
Well, that´s it. It´s my subjective opinion and I´m curious if I´m right or wrong. In one year we will know more about the “older” and “younger” generation of gymnastics stars in the United States of America.
Liukin just proved me wrong with her statement on IG.
“Gymnastics is something I have a passion for,” Liukin told IG. “It’s not that I do it because of the sponsors or the opportunities. I do it because I truly love it. Even if you think about the opportunities, there are things I will turn down. But after 2012, there can be bigger and better opportunities, so you have to think of it like that.”