ST. PAUL, Minn., Aug. 19, 2006 – 2005 world uneven bars and balance beam champion Nastia Liukin of Parker, Texas/WOGA, successfully defended her U.S. all-around title at the 2006 Visa Championships at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Natasha Kelley of Katy, Texas/Stars, and Jana Bieger of Coconut Creek, Fla./BOCA, finished third.

Liukin held just a one-tenth lead ahead of Kelley after the first rotation, but Kelley turned in a 15.750 performance on beam to take a .650 lead after the second. Liukin’s two best events were next, and she pulled within two tenths of a point after posting 15.850 points on uneven bars in the third rotation. In the final rotation, Kelley scored14.850 points on vault for a double-twisting Yurchenko. Despite problems with her flip flop-layout-whip series on the beam, Liukin’s clean execution elsewhere was good enough for 15.550 points and her second all-around title by half a point.

“To win juniors two years in a row and seniors two years in a row is pretty incredible,” Liukin said. “It’s amazing to be on top and to claim the title again.”

Kelley, last year’s junior champion, was second on uneven bars and balance beam and was fourth on floor.

“I was watching the scoreboard,” Kelley said. “I think it helped my confidence going into the last to events to know that I was leading the field.”

Event champions included Alicia Sacramone of Winchester, Mass./Brestyan’s, on vault, who holds this event’s world title; Liukin on uneven bars and balance beam; and Sacramone and Randi Stageberg of Chesapeake, Va./Excalibur, tied for the floor title.

In the junior division, Shawn Johnson of West Des Moines, Iowa/Chow’s, won the women’s all-around, vault, balance beam and floor exercise titles. Bianca Flohr of Creston, Ohio/Cincinnati, was second in the all-around and first on uneven bars for the second year in a row, and Samantha Peszek of McCordsville, Ind./DeVeau’s, finished third.

Johnson’s beam score of 16.200 points is believed to be the highest score earned by a U.S. junior this year under the new Code of points. Her combined all-around total of 124.100 points was more than four points ahead of her closest competitor and was the highest among all competitors, junior or senior.

“To win junior nationals is incredible,” Johnson said. “Last year was my first year as elite and my first Visa Championships. Sometimes time seems to fly by so fast, but I am enjoying every minute of it.”

The top 12 women in each division automatically qualified to the 2006 U.S. National Team. Up to four additional athletes in each division may be added to the team by the women’s selection committee.

Rhythmic Gymnastics

In senior event finals, 2006 all-around champion Lisa Wang of Buffalo Grove, Ill./North Shore, and Julie Zetlin of Bethesda, Md./Rhythmflex, split the event titles. Wang won ball and ribbon, while Zetlin won clubs and rope.

“Ball is a brand new routine for me and it was easily my best ball performance this year,” Wang said.

Zetlin, who won four events as a junior last year, won the senior clubs and rope titles.

“Even if I make mistakes, I still try to make the most of my routine and really live it,” Zetlin said. “There is a lot more pressure at the senior level; it’s a different ballgame.”

In the junior division, three-time junior all-around champion Rachel Marmer of Woodland Hills, Calif./Hollywood Academy won all four events.

“I feel confident and pleased that I performed well,” Marmer said. “I’m looking forward to competing as a senior year next year and securing a place on the senior national team.”