The Olympians: Nastia Liukin
by Liz Colville
Gymnast Nastia Liukin was promoted to the women’s Olympic squad after an impressive performance at the trials in June.
Anastasia “Nastia” Liukin is a four-time World Champion, four-time National Champion, and first-time Olympic competitor. Although her family moved to the United States when she was two, Nastia has strong Eastern European talent running through her veins: both her parents, Valeri and Anna Kotchneva Liukin, were former Soviet gymnasts who became gymnastic coaches. At 18 years old, Liukin has already spent three years at the senior elite level, competing as a junior elite from the age of 12. Liukin’s detailed biography on her official Web site sheds more light on her evolution from Texas star to new Olympian.
Recent videos of Liukin’s stellar performances on the road to the Olympics are available on her Web site. These include her floor routine at the Visa Championships earlier this year, her balance beam routine at the 2007 World Championships and four routines from the 2007 Pacific Rim Championships.
The International Herald Tribune covered Liukin’s progress in the run-up to the Olympic trials, noting that her parents’ prowess in gymnastics (her father won four medals at the 1988 Games) and rhythmic gymnastics (her mother Anna was world champion in 1987) has certainly helped shape Nastia for stardom. The Tribune observes that Liukin “has the long lines and daring skills that could make her a television star” at the Beijing Games.
In a YouTube video of a U.S. Olympic Committee press conference, Liukin and her teammates Alicia Sacramone and Shawn Johnson talk about their biggest rivals, the Chinese, and how being hosted by this top country will give advantages to both the U.S. and Chinese teams—for different reasons. The “bond” the U.S. team shares will only help them fight for the gold away from home, and members will also be helped by U.S. fans and family members in attendance. The trio also add that their familiar rivalry with the Chinese makes things easier.
Watch Liukin perform her winning beam routine at the Olympic Trials in June.
AT&T’s “Home Turf TeamUSA” site pays tribute to several Olympic athletes, including Liukin, who takes viewers on a tour of a typical day of school and training. Coached by her father, Valeri, Nastia explains that she got started in gymnastics “running around the gym” while her parents trained. School is still part of her life; she attends five intensive classes for a few hours a day to make time for two workouts, which bookend her classroom time.
There are at least two viable contenders for the all-around women’s gold medal in Beijing, notes the Los Angeles Times, and it may be the one thing that disrupts the friendly rivalry between Nastia Liukin and teammate Shawn Johnson. Johnson, 16, is the defending world champion and two-time defending U.S. champion; the only American to beat her in the all-around competition in the past two years is Liukin. For both young women, it may be all about timing: Johnson is the newcomer and burst into medal contention quickly. Liukin has experienced growth spurts and injuries but is finally getting her chance in the spotlight after being too young for the Athens Games.
Coverage of gymnastics in Beijing begins August 9 on NBC. Find multimedia and news on NBCOlympics.com.