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IG Online Interview: Nastia Liukin (USA)
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Fresh off her gig as an NBC correspondent at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin is back in the U.S. and already promoting gymnastics. Pictured: Liukin leapt from summer Olympic star to winter Olympic correspondent in Sochi

Fresh off her gig as an NBC correspondent at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin is back in the U.S. and already promoting gymnastics. She was in Texas this morning to help announce that next year's American Cup/FIG World All-Around Cup will be held at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys football team.

In Sochi, Liukin used her Russian skills and cultural perspective for her "All-Around Sochi" segments, which featured sights and activities not seen in the competitive venues, as well as lessons in figure skating, snowboarding and skiing. "All-Around Sochi" also included interviews with media and sport stars like Matt Lauer, Scott Hamilton and Maria Sharapova.


Liukin getting ready to be on camera in Sochi to get skiing and snowboarding lessons from Jonny Moseley and Todd Harris

Born in Moscow on Oct. 30, 1989, Liukin emigrated to the United States as a toddler with her gymnastics champion parents. Her father, the legendary world and Olympic champion Valeri Liukin, and her mother, world rhythmic champion Anna Kochneva Liukin, began coaching in New Orleans before setting up their own gymnastics club in Plano, Texas.

Liukin grew up in the gym because her parents could not afford a babysitter, and from there her story is well known. She went on to win back-to-back U.S. junior (2003 and 2004) and senior (2005 and 2006) all-around titles, nine world championships medals (four gold) and two American Cup titles (2006 and 2008). At the 2008 Olympic Games, she realized her ultimate dream when she won the all-around gold medal, plus four other medals. Her five medals in one Olympics tied Shannon Miller (1992) and Mary Lou Retton (1984) for the U.S. record in gymnastics.

Established in 1994, the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) just celebrated its 20th anniversary of opening its doors. The club's female stars to date include Olympic all-around champions Liukin and Carly Patterson (2004), plus world medalists Rebecca Bross, Ivana Hong and Hollie Vise. The club also has sent numerous male and female gymnasts on to college scholarships in the NCAA, and former WOGA gymnast Steven Legendre has two world medals to his credit.

In 2012, Liukin became the first reigning Olympic all-around champion to even attempt to make the next Olympic Games since Nadia Comaneci competed in back-to-back Olympics (1976 and 1980). A torn rotator cuff in her shoulder limited her training, but she fought to compete in bars and beam at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Today, Liukin keeps busy as a sophomore at New York University (NYU) majoring in sports management, but also has a keen eye on fashion design, with her own line of leotards from GK. She stays fit for exhibitions, such as the annual Progressive Figure Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular, and recently began doing gymnastics commentary for NBC. She also hosts the annual Nastia Liukin Cup series, which gives pre-elite (Level 10) gymnasts a chance to compete in a big event on the same podium as the American Cup.

IG recently caught up with Liukin, who was busy preparing to commentate on this weekend's Nastia Liukin Cup and AT&T American Cup/FIG World Cup — and as well as writing a six-page paper for NYU — to chat about her Sochi experience, balancing a busy life while attending school and her future plans.



Liukin poses with the Olympic rings in Sochi

IG: Usually we don't see many summer Olympians on camera at the Winter Olympics. How did you get the opportunity to be a correspondent for the Olympics in Sochi?

NL: I was so excited when I was approached by NBC about going to Sochi as a correspondent. I was in London doing a little work for NBC, but I didn't really expect to have the opportunity to go to Sochi, because it was a Winter Olympics. It was an amazing experience meeting and working with some of the best of the best in the TV world.

IG: Did you have to take this semester off from NYU to go to Sochi?

NL: Oh gosh, that's my next challenge! I did not take the semester off. I spoke to my adviser and the dean before I left to figure out the best option for me, since I would be missing the first month of classes. I've always wanted to have a real and normal college experience, so I was planning to take the semester off, because I didn't want to ask for any kind of "special treatment" or paper extensions. But, everyone at NYU has been so helpful, and I have been in contact with my professors while I was in Russia. I tried to do as much reading and studying while in Sochi, but as you can imagine, I didn't have much downtime while I was there.

I went to my first day of classes this week so now I'm playing the catch-up game, which is a little stressful.

IG: How were your Russian skills in Sochi?

NL: It was so helpful being able to speak fluent Russian while in Sochi. A few restaurants only had menus in Russian so I had to order dinners for our whole group sometimes, which was fun trying to explain what all the items were! I did pretend at times I didn't understand Russian (like when a policeman started yelling at me to get off the grass by a stadium where I was trying to take a picture). But other than that little incident my Russian was very helpful.

IG: When you were in Sochi you shared a photo about how much the Olympic rings mean to so many. Can you expand on that?

NL: There's something so incredibly special about those five rings. They were special to me before Beijing because of my dad's achievements, but after Beijing they took on a whole new meaning to me. Every time I see them it reminds me that any dream is attainable, no matter what anyone tells you or the obstacles you have to overcome to achieve that dream. I'm so honored to have been able to be at the Winter Olympic Games and I hope to continue to do so in the future.


Liukin after winning the all-around gold at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing

IG: You did some fun segments and interviews. Which one was your favorite of the segments?

NL: Thank you! I had so much fun brainstorming ideas with my producer. Some were more challenging than others logistically, but we made it all work. I think one of my favorites was when I got to ski and snowboard (click here for link). I grew up skiing but had never tried to snowboard so it was pretty comical at times... We showed the good stuff on TV ;)

IG: The fifth Nastia Cup will be this weekend and it keeps gaining momentum and importance for the girls. What does this competition mean to you?

NL: I honestly cannot believe this is the fifth year of the Nastia Cup. I'm actually in Dallas today to announce that next year's event will be at Cowboys Stadium.... (Is this real life?!) I remember competing at Madison Square Garden in 2008 and winning the American Cup title there, but I can only imagine how amazing it will be next year at the Stadium. It's especially meaningful to me because it's my hometown.

As for the actual competition itself, I can't believe what a little idea has now turned into. Mary Lou Retton's daughter qualified this year... How cool is that?! I love being able to meet all the girls, give them their leotards that I design with GK, and spend as much time as I can with them sharing my experiences and answering their questions. It really is a fun weekend.

IG: Will you be doing the live commentary again for the Nastia Cup and/or the American Cup? Do you get a little nervous with the live announcing?

NL: I will be doing commentating for both events! In 2012 as I finished my competitive career, getting into commentating seemed like such a natural transition for me to stay involved in gymnastics. But on the other side of things, I definitely get a little nervous with live announcing because I still don't have that much experience. I'm so fortunate to work with such an amazing team of producers and talent that are all so willing to share their knowledge with me. I also spend a lot of time watching different competitions on YouTube from different years, because I'm constantly trying to learn more.

IG: You served as the athlete's representative for the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) for several years. When you are finished with college, how do you plan to stay involved in gymnastics? Do you think you'll stay involved in USA Gymnastics or maybe go on to an official role with the FIG?

NL: I will absolutely stay involved with USA Gymnastics forever. The organization as a whole has given me so many wonderful opportunities that I could never truly thank them all enough for. Gymnastics has been a part of my life since the day I was born, and although it's not a part of my daily life anymore, I know it will be somehow part of my life forever.

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