It comes as a surprise to Nastia Liukin that she gets recognized on the street for her many accomplishments.
But as only the third U.S. women’s gymnast to earn all-around Olympic gold (not to mention the three silver medals she won for uneven bars, balance beam and the team event, and the bronze on floor), it's far from surprising.
Liukin hopes to be recognized once again for her gymnastics prowess by making a return to the sport. Liukin announced in October that she is training full steam ahead with the goal of being one of the five U.S. women chosen for the London 2012 Olympic team.
“I had visions of sitting in the stands [in London] and watching Team USA walk out and thinking, ‘What if I would have tried?’”
Those thoughts scared her, so Liukin decided she owed it to herself to return and leave the sport with no regrets.
Though Liukin has not competed since 2009 and is still unsure when her first meet back will be (but guarantees she will be at the Secret U.S. Classic in late May), she says that training is going well.
“I’m trying to take it one day at a time and trying not to get too overwhelmed but it’s exciting to be back in the mix and doing something I have a passion for,” Liukin said.
The reigning all-around Olympic champ has ruled out the possibility of returning as an all-around contender, eliminating vault from her repertoire.
“I’m not gonna try and even lie,” Liukin laughed when asked about the possibility of being an all-around gymnast this time. “My one-and-a-half vault at the Olympics was the best I could have done.”
To be competitive in the all-around this year gymnasts need to compete an Amanar – two-and-a-half twists. Liukin is blown away by the growing list of gymnasts who can land the vault, which includes three of her U.S. teammates, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber.
“Their two-and-a-halfs and even their tumbling, like Aly’s tumbling on floor I watch at camp and I’m like, ‘How is that humanly possible?’ and she’s like, ‘I don’t know, how do you do bars?’”
Liukin has made connection changes in her 2008 beam and bar routines, her two strongest events, and should she decide to compete floor this year she has a brand new routine, unlike anything else out there.
Liukin called in Emmy nominee and So You Think You Can Dance runner-up Travis Wall to help choreograph her routine and highlight her artistry and grace.
“I’m so excited for that because it’s me with a little dance into it too and it’s very different from any other gymnastics routine,” Liukin explained. “I’ve always felt like that’s how I can separate myself from everybody else is by my artistry and I felt like if I wanted to do something I needed to be even more different than I was before.
“I’ll never be the same Nastia Liukin that I was in 2008 – I was at my prime, I had never taken a day off, I trained for 18-plus years for that moment.”
That may be true but she is giving it her all to be the best version of a 2012 Nastia Liukin possible. Liukin has cut back significantly on traveling and making appearances in order to focus all her attention on training. But there are a few rare exceptions, including the Nastia Liukin Cup, which was held Friday night at Madison Square Garden, on the eve of the 2012 AT&T American Cup. Liukin’s media appearances in New York City on Friday also marked the first time she and fellow U.S. Olympic all-around champions, Mary Lou Retton and Carly Patterson, have all been together.
The first Nastia Liukin Cup was held in 2010 as a way to give younger (Level 10) gymnasts an opportunity to compete in the large arenas that host the American Cup. In addition to being the face behind the competition, Liukin also designs the leotards the athletes wear. Liukin admits people were hesitant about the inaugural event but it has continued to evolve and grow and looks to have a bright future.
“I think it’s such a good opportunity for them, whatever path they want to take in life,” Liukin said of the effect the competition has on its participants. “If they want to go on to college gymnastics or if they do want to go on to competing on the national team, it’s such a good stepping stone for them.”
Though Liukin opted not to compete collegiately herself – knowing she would not be able to focus on both gymnastics and a college course load at the same time – and turned professional at age 13, she told TeamUSA.org on Friday that college is in her very near future.
The Texas native is hoping to go to New York University and study sport management. Liukin already met with the prestigious school’s admissions office and believes the school is the right fit for her. Unfortunately she recently found out her ACT score is no longer good because it has been too long since the 22-year-old took the test. Liukin has hired a tutor and in whatever spare time she can find outside of training she is studying to take her ACT exam in April, with the goal of starting school in January 2013.
It is clear that whether Nastia Liukin makes the U.S. Olympic team and goes on to win more gold in London or finds herself sitting in a college classroom in a few months – or both – the future is very bright for this golden girl.
Brandon Penny is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.