Nastia Liukin struggles at Olympic gymnastics trials

SAN JOSE — Nastia Liukin’s legs flopped instead of standing straight as she swung around the uneven bars as if a strong gust of wind had blown through HP Pavilion.

As the crowd was still gasping at that mistake, Liukin landed on her backside instead of her feet and in the first 10 minutes of the U.S. Olympic trials, Liukin’s attempt at making her second Olympic team seemed over Friday night.

Jordyn Wieber, a 16-year-old from DeWitt, Mich., put herself firmly in first place after the first of two nights of the U.S. Olympic trials. Wieber had a score of 61.700 and fellow 16-year-old Gabrielle Douglas had a 61.400. Alexandra Raisman, who finished fourth in the all-around at the 2011 world championships, is third and surprising Elizabeth Price of Coopersburg, Pa., is fourth in the all-around after the first round.

Only the Olympics trials all-around champion will have an automatic spot on the London team. The other four members will be chosen by a selection committee after Sunday’s second day of trials here.

Liukin was hoping to make the Olympics while only competing in two events. Besides the uneven bars, where she won a silver medal in Beijing because of a complex tiebreaking procedure even though she had the same overall score as He Kexin of China, Liukin also did the balance beam and had big wobbles. She shrugged her shoulders at the end, as if to acknowledge that there was no magic left for her to summon.

She was the 10th-best scorer on uneven bars and seventh on the balance beam.

“We tried our hardest,” said Valeri Liukin, Nastia’s father and coach, seeming to concede that whatever happens Sunday in the final night of Olympic qualifying, it won’t put his daughter on the team again.

“I’m proud of myself in coming back,” Liukin said. “It maybe didn’t turn out how I wanted, but I tried my best.”

After beating her American teammate Shawn Johnson to win the all-around gold medal in Beijing, Liukin retired. She waited until last January to put her full effort into making a comeback and it seems as if that was too late.

Nerves seemed to filter through the air all night, along with the chalk dust.

Right off the bat Douglas stalled in the middle of her uneven bars routine. Douglas, who had fallen off the balance beam at the U.S. nationals, a mistake that cost her the national all-around title, managed to stay on the unevens, though, and make her landing count and she brought the crowd to its feet on her third event, the floor exercise, as she seemed to gain energy with every ascending tumbling pass.

McKayla Maroney of Long Beach fell off the uneven bars and balance beam, but she had the best score of the night with a vault that was so solid it almost shook the floor and registered a 16.100. The unsightly falls, though, put a frown on the face of Martha Karolyi, the U.S. women’s national team coordinator and major voice in team selection.

And even before the competition began there was a loss.

Bridget Sloan, a member of the 2008 team, finished a warmup routine on the uneven bars grimacing and holding her left elbow.

Shortly after that her coach, Marvin Sharp, announced the 20-year-old who has already accepted a scholarship to the University of Florida for next year, was withdrawing.

Sloan was the 2009 U.S. and world all-around champion.