After becoming only the third American woman to win the Olympic All-Around gold medal, Nastia Liukin left the Beijing Olympics as the most decorated gymnast and became an instant household name. For the last 5 years, Nastia’s life has been a whirlwind. Between traveling for appearances, commentating for NBC, and being a full-time student at New York University, Nastia has had a full plate. I had the opportunity to chat with Nastia about the highs and lows of her gymnastics career and see what’s in store for the future!
Can you describe some of the highs and lows of you career? One of the highest points of my career was winning the all-around gold medal at the Olympic Games. I will never forget the moment when they announced my name following the worlds “Olympic Champion.” It seemed so surreal at that moment. Eighteen years of hard work, sacrifice, tears, injuries, and all the obstacles I had to overcome to get to that very moment. That’s why I was so emotional in the moment, then I spotted my dad across the arena with tears in his eyes, and I have never in my life seen him cry, so that made me tear up even more.
Another highlight was last year at the Olympic Trials. Although it clearly wasn’t my best performance, I ended my career with two standing ovations of almost 20,000 people. It was my first and only standing ovation in my career. It was so heart warming to see the fans on their feet cheering me on despite my poor performance. Of course I would have loved to have made a second Olympic team, but I believe everything happens for a reason. I learned more about myself and life in general in that weekend than I have in all my years combined.
During your career, you were always neck and neck with Shawn Johnson. What was your relationship with her like? Are you two close today? Shawn and I were great friends during our competitive career. We were both very similar in terms of mentality on training- we were both very focused and driven. We roomed together often, which always worked out well. We both loved to read, write in our journals, and go to sleep early. As for today, our lives have taken different paths. We are living in different parts of the country, so we don’t see each other often. I saw her last at Nationals when our 2007 Worlds team was inducted into the Hall of Fame. We both shared memories and couldn’t believe it had already been six years since that Worlds.
Looking back at your career, what were some things that you are most proud of? I think one of the things I’m most proud of is winning the all around gold, against all odds. Many people had written me off from even competing in the all around just a year before when I was injured and struggled to perform my best. I owe so much to my dad for putting together this master plan of preparation. It all led down to that one day in August. He was always extremely encouraging and made me believe that we could achieve this dream together. It was almost more challenging mentally than it was physically, so I really relied on the help of both my parents. They stood by my side, like most parents do, but never pushed or forced me to do anything. We always said it was team Liukin…my mom was as much a part of the team even though she didn’t coach me in the gym, she supported both of us 100% every single day. We couldn’t have done it without her.
Do you have any interesting memories from your time at the Olympics? One of my favorite moments from the Olympic games was walking into the competition arena for the very first time for podium training. The six of us were standing in the tunnel together and we all looked at each other wide eyed with butterflies in our stomachs. We had a little moment telling each other how proud we were and how amazing it was that we were at the Olympic Games representing the United States of America.
In what ways has your life changed following the Olympics? I think my life has definitely changed in many ways- being more busy and constantly traveling for different events and appearances. I’m so thankful to have been able to do something I truly loved since I was three years old and now to have made a career out of it. Another thing that stands out the most to me is realizing that if you set your mind to something and work extremely hard, anything is possible.
What it like having a meet named in your honor? I think the only greater honor I have felt was wearing the American flag on my leotard and representing my country at the Olympics games. Every year when I’m at the Nastia Liukin Cup I feel like I’m living in a dream. Seeing the signage with my name on it, the girls with their leotards and warm ups with my name in rhinestones, and most of all meeting all the girls and seeing the excitement in their eyes. I still really can’t believe it. I owe so much to USA Gymnastics for not only supporting me throughout my career, but the continuous support with my competition and the Nastia Liukin Fund. Gymnastics will forever be a huge part of my life.
How is school going? School is going really well! I love learning something new every single day and feel like my brain is expanding. Next week is finals week, so I’m about to be in stress mode. The interesting thing about it is, as stressful as it is, I love having something to prepare and study for. It reminds me of preparing and training for a competition. My first semester I took 18 credits, which was quite a lot for my first year of school in six years! This semester I’m taking 16 and next semester I will only take 12 because of my travel schedule to Sochi for the Winter Olympics.
Last year you started working for NBC and doing commentary for all the gymnastics meets. Was this an easy transition for you? I absolutely love it. I know I’m not a professional (yet), as the pros have had as many years of practice as I did training for the Olympics. I learn something new every single time we are on the air and when I re-watch the coverages. Some things came natural to me because gymnastics is such second nature to me, but there are definitely things I had to learn from either trial and error, or people telling me. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and I’m lucky to have the best team of producers and talent at NBC that I get to work with. This is something I have wanted to do since Beijing , so I’m excited to finally have this opportunity.
Your former gym, WOGA is continuing to produce many top elite level gymnasts to this day, what do you think of some of the up and coming girls? Do you ever give them advice? Whenever I’m home in Dallas, I go to the gym everyday and spend a few hours watching and catching up with the girls and coaches. I do sometimes give them advice, but I try not to get in the way too much because they all have their personal coaches, so I don’t want to interfere with that. But of course when they come to me for advice I am always more than willing to help in anyway I can.
What is one thing that not many people know about you? That’s a really tough question… I think many people know so much about me as most of my life has been gymnastics and in the public eye, which is why I really value my personal life and time I spend with the people I love and care about. But I guess many people might not know I love to cook, specifically bake. I also started walking when I was only 8 months old… so I guess I was ready to learn a floor routine by a year old!
What is next for you? Are you planning anything exciting that you can share with gymnastics fans? Right now I’m really focusing on school and graduating. My goal is to graduate before the Rio 2016 Olympics, but I’m not sure how reasonable that is with my travel schedule. I’ve been wanting to take summer classes, but that’s when I’m traveling the most so it makes it difficult to commit to a summer session. I do have a few exciting opportunities that we are currently working on. I can’t quite share them, but I think my gymnastics fans will be happy!
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? I’m such a planner and constantly stress about things like this. My new goal is to live one day at a time, but in 10 years, I definitely will have graduated college and most likely have moved back to Dallas or elsewhere. I really love New York City right now, but I don’t see myself settling here and having a family. I hope to be married and have a family in 10 years and continue working with NBC and USA Gymnastics.