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Nastia Liukin took the world by storm during the 2008 Olympic Games, clinching gold in the women’s gymnastics all-around. Ascending to the top of her sport, Liukin quickly captured national attention and admiration, solidifying her place as gymnastics royalty.

Born in Moscow, Raised in Texas

Gymnastics has been part of Liukin’s life from the start, after she was born to two Soviet champion gymnasts, Valeri Liukin and Anna Kotchneva, in Moscow in 1989. When she was just two years old, Liukin, along with her parents, moved to the United States, landing first in New Orleans and then settling in Dallas, TX.

Liukin’s parents immediately started on their shared dream of establishing a gymnastics gym and training facility. The young star quickly started hanging around her parents’ business, taking to the sport right away.

Soon after Liukin began training, her father reluctantly began coaching her, something he initially hoped to avoid. The sport’s physical dangers motivated Liukin’s dad to watch over her, spot her and ensure his daughter’s safety.

“I think they really, really were hoping that I wasn’t going to be good,” Liukin told Kelly O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast, adding that her parents were worried their success in the sport would be too much pressure for their daughter.

Liukin’s future in the sport was never a forgone conclusion, with the gymnast inheriting her mother’s taller, slender body type rather than the more compact strength necessary for an artistic gymnast. It wasn’t until she made the junior national team at 12-years old that Liukin felt that people started to notice her burgeoning talent. Though Liukin was too young to participate in the 2004 Olympics, Carly Patterson, who trained at Liukin’s gym, won the all-around gold in Athens, giving the teen hope for her own Olympic dreams. In 2005, Liukin won gold in the balance beam and uneven bars at the World Championship, racking up silver medals in all-around and floor, and setting off an illustrious junior career.

Ahead of the 2008 Olympics, in 2007, Liukin hit a snag, injuring her ankle.

“That year at Worlds, I traveled in a wheelchair, couldn’t walk,” Liukin recalls to O’Hara, adding that she could only compete for the team on uneven bars.

Eventually, Liukin underwent surgery after reinjuring her ankle, leading to what she deems “the worst year of my career.” But in hindsight, Liukin says the challenging year was the “best thing that kind of could have happened,” adding that the “low down” lit a fire ahead of the Olympics.

2008 Olympics

After coming second in the Olympic Trials to Shawn Johnson East, Liukin was named to the Team USA roster, with the moment only feeling real to the 18-year-old when she boarded the flight to Beijing. Soon the hype started to build as roommates and teammates Liukin and East began competing against each other for individual medals.

The 2008 Games marked the first Olympics where two American gymnasts were favored to go one and two in the coveted all-around event, creating a palpable rivalry between Liukin and East.

“We were fine being roommates — we were actually really good friends that just happened to have the same exact goal,” said Liukin, revealing that the relationship began to change around the all-around event. After Liukin clinched gold in the all-around and East took silver, the two tried their best to support each other, but the competition and noise around both athletes made that difficult.

Though complicated by a complex team dynamic, capturing the all-around title was an unforgettable moment Liukin shared with her father and coach.

“I’ve never in my life seen my dad cry, and I spotted him way across the arena and he was crying,” Liukin recalls of the medal ceremony. The Olympic feat was very much a full-circle moment, with her dad having won silver in the all-around 20 years prior.

Liukin finished the Beijing Games with silver medals in balance beam, team, uneven bars, and a bronze in the floor exercise.

Post-Olympic life

Following the Olympics, Liukin reveals she experienced moments of depression, wondering what came next after achieving her wildest dreams. Her lingering melancholy was compounded by Liukin’s deteriorating friendship with East. The post-Olympic media circus and rival management teams had torn the former friends apart.

“It felt like the world just started pitting us against each other in every single aspect — it was 10 times worse than leading up to the Olympics,” admits Liukin.

After eight years of silence between the former competitors, Johnson reached out to Liukin via email, with the two eventually agreeing to meet up. Following the initial reunion, Liukin attended East’s wedding, even becoming the godmother to the couple’s first child.

The two are not shy about their evolving friendship, often reliving their days as competitors and bringing fans along on their reconciliation journey.

Gymnastics Retirement

After taking a much-needed two years off from the sport following her Olympic debut, Liukin decided to make a run for the 2012 London Games. Making it all the way to the Olympic Trials, Liukin faced one of the hardest moments in her career, falling during her best event, the uneven bars.

“I fell face first and faceplanted,” Liukin remembers. After the initial shock wore off, Liukin dusted herself off to the crowd’s adoration.

“I wanted to crawl under the podium,” said Liukin. “Then I was like, ‘okay wait, this isn’t how my career ends.’”

The American star finished the routine, and though she was embarrassed and knew her Olympic dreams were dashed, the crowd gave Liukin a standing ovation. That moment helped Liukin to realize her worth wasn’t defined solely by her gymnastics successes.

She retired from the mat shortly after that competition, officially leaving gymnastics.

What’s next

Liukin left gymnastics as a competitor but has hung around the sport after being hired as an NBC commentator. Most recently, Liukin covered the Tokyo Games, establishing herself as a compelling sports broadcaster who we’ll likely see again during the 2024 Games.

Liukin also maintains a website where she shares her love for all things “fitness, fashion, beauty, and living a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle.”