SAN JOSE, 1 July — Reigning Olympic Gymnastic All-Around Gold Medalist Anastasia Valeryevna “Nastia” Liukin will not be competing in the London Games. This outcome was dramatically punctuated here tonight when she fell flat on her face on the uneven parallel bars, an apparatus that she had, four years earlier in Beijing, owned. While it is hard to imagine a career-ending moment the champion would have preferred less, I must confess I found the moment perfect in its bittersweet poetry.
In the artworld, Marina Abramovic, whose relentless self-testing has kept her at the top of her field for decades, has recently ascended from the clouds to the stratosphere.
Liukin’s career is over at 22.
Abramovic is at the top of her game at 65.
In Blade Runner, Leon, unintentionally poetic, says,
Wake up! Time to die!
To the not-so-bright Leon this text simply means “Hey asshole, I’m going to kill you,” but to we the audience the subtext is the painful, outrageous insult of human mortality, just when you sort of get a clue about this life we live, just when you really “wake up” and start to see clearly, it’s already done.
To do one thing, or actually four, better than any of the other 7.024 billion human souls on earth, for one shining moment, is extraordinary. To attempt to achieve that again four years later is, perhaps, as ridiculous as trying to fly to the sun.
We certainly don’t need to “feel bad” for Liukin who, no doubt, will go on to a life of opportunity and affluence. Still, at 22 to no longer be able to compete at the thing you once did better than anyone is a wincing metaphor for this mortal journey of ours. As an avatar in a virtual world you can easily maintain a ridiculously low body fat for decade after decade, but as a corporeal being, everything is fleeting.
If it’s any consolation, in the Google-I’m-Feeling-Lucky-athon, I only had to type “N-A-S-T” before the omniscient search engine opined “You’re probably looking for NASTIA LIUKIN,” but I had to fully type “M-A-R-I-N-A- -A” before it could cipher that I was interested in queen-of-the-artworld “MARINA ABRAMOVIC.” For what it’s worth, the retired 22-year-old can still annihilate the 65-year-old champion by the lopsided score of 4 characters to 8.
Nastia Liukin’s triumph four years ago was an extraordinary human moment for her. Her “failure” tonight was a remarkable moment for all of humankind.