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Brian Curtis, NBCDFW.com
Nastia Liukin has had just six months to return to Olympic form, as she tries to make Team USA Gymnastics in time for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Nastia Liukin returned to competition at the Secret U.S. Classic in Chicago recently, after taking three years off. She competed only on the balance beam, but turned in an impressive performance and finished third.
Liukin's comeback hasn't been easy. She's had just six months to return to Olympic form.
"It's definitely harder. I'll be 23 this year, so I'm older and more mature and my body's changed," Liukin said. "I think the biggest challenge for me has been to accept that I'll never be the same Nastia Liukin as I was in Beijing."
Liukin won five medals at the 2008 Games, including gold in the all-around competition.
Liukin's strategy is different this time. If she makes Team USA, she will not defend her gold medal. Liukin is competing only on the uneven bars and the balance beam.
"Coming back with the limited time that I had from now until the London Games, I knew that bars and beam were my strongest events," Liukin said.
Making the team will not be easy. A rule change means only five women will make the team this year, not six like in Beijing. And the U.S. has more talent than ever.
"The team is very strong right now. It's going to be hard no matter what, for everybody," said Nastia's father, Valeri, who is also her coach.
Nastia Liukin knows there are no guarantees.
"I think so many people don't realize that just because I did win the Olympic all-around gold medal in 2008, I'm not guaranteed a spot. I have to go through the same selection procedures as everybody else does."
That process includes the U.S. Olympic Trials in San Jose at the end of June.
For perhaps the first time in her career, Liukin is not a sure bet.
"This time it's almost against like all odds are against me. Nobody believes that maybe I can make that Olympic team. It's not just proving to everybody else. It's proving to myself," she said.
With a successful return to competition, Nastia Liukin is confident that she can land a ticket to London.
"I definitely believe. I think I would not be doing this every single day if I didn't believe I could make that Olympic team."
Liukin's next test is the Visa National Championships which begin June 7 in St. Louis.