Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Nastia Liukin

Nastia Liukin was born Anastasia Valeryevna Liukin on October 30, 1989. Nastia’s father Valeri Liukin is a former Soviet Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics. In fact, he was the first man to ever complete a triple backflip. Nastia’s mother, Anna Kotchneva, is also a former Soviet World Champion rhythmic gymnast. Nastia was born in Moscow, Russia but after the breakup of the former Soviet Union the family moved to the United States when she was only two years old. They originally settled in New Orleans and from there moved to Texas where they still live.

After coming the U.S., Nastia’s parents became gymnastics coaches and Nastia would spend time at the gym watching them training other gymnasts. By this time she was three years old and she began taking gymnastics as a way to pass the time while she waited for her parents. In the beginning her parents did not aspire to have Nastia become a gymnast because they fully understood, from first hand experience, the demands that are placed on a gymnast who competes at a high-level. However, as her aptitude and skill for the sport became apparent, they eventually relented and Nastia began training in ernest. The family now has a gymnastics training facility in Plano, Texas called the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy or WOGA which was opened in 1994.

When Nastia was twelve years old she became a member of the U.S. junior national team and at the age of thirteen she won the National all-around title. In 2003 Nastia was the all-around silver medalist in the Pan American Games. She has also been a four-time all-around National Champion, twice as a junior and twice as a senior. Nastia has represented the U.S. at three separate World Championships as well as at the Pan American Games in 2003 and 2007 and the Pacific Rim Championships in 2006 and 2008. In 2008 she was the Olympic individual all-around champion and the World Champion in 2005 and 2007 on the balance beam. She was also the World Champion in 2005 on the uneven bars. Nastia Liukin has won nine World Championship medals, seven of which are individual; this has her tied with Alicia Sacramone and Shannon Miller as one of the U.S. gymnasts who have won the most World Championship medals.

Nastia graduated from high school in 2007 and was enrolled at the Southern Methodist University to begin studying as an international business major, but ended up taking time off to prepare for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing China. She tried to return to school in the spring of 2009, but her professional commitments and heavy travel schedule forced her to withdraw before the semester even ended.

Nastia Liukin’s preferred color is pink and this has become her signature color. This of course accounts for the pink leotard she wore during the all-around competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She also has her own line of GK gymnastics grips and leotards as well as a line of gymnastics equipment such as balance beams and mats in her signature color of pink, all offered through American Athletic, Inc. or AAI.

In 2006 Nastia was picked to represent the U.S. at the World Gymnastics Championships in Denmark and many expected her to be a major contender for the all-around medal. However, she sustained an ankle injury while training for the competition and only competed on the uneven bars. She still earned a 16.2; the highest score earned on any apparatus, by any contender at the meet. This score qualified her to compete on bars for the event finals where she took a little step during her dismount and earned a 16.05 for the silver medal, taking second to Beth Tweddle from Britain.

Nastia’s ankle injury ended up requiring surgery and the resulting recovery kept her out of competitions for most of 2007. However, in July 2007, while still recovering, she decided to compete with the American team at the Pan Am Games being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She was only able to compete on the beam and bars, but her score helped the team win a gold medal as well as an individual silver medal on the uneven bars and individual gold on the final for balance beam.

Even though she had very limited time spent training for vault and floor during this time, Nastia choose to compete for all-around at the U.S. National Championships in 2007. She won the highest score of the meet with her bar routine and the second highest beam score on day two of the competition. This gave her the title for senior bars three years in a row with a second place finish on beam.

Nastia had an extremely busy schedule between training twice a day for her gymnastics career as well as the many other commitments that come with being a student and professional athlete. She has also been featured in numerous national and international advertising campaigns on television and in 2006 she had a small role speaking in the movie Stick It which became a hit movie about gymnastics. Nastia has said that she would like to continue pursuing modeling and acting opportunities when possible.

At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing china, Nastia Liukin performed a beautiful routine which earned her a bronze metal on the floor. She tied with China’s He Kexin on the uneven bars when they both posted 16.725 for their final marks and earned identical A and B panel scores. But, China’s He Kexin took the gold and Nadia was awarded the silver medal. On the balance beam final, Nastia won a silver medal right behind Shawn Johnson. After taking five medals in Beijing, Nastia tied with Shannon Miller and Mary Lou Retton for the most medals won by an American gymnast in a single Olympics.

The 2008 Olympics has fueled Nastia’s drive to return to competitive gymnastics and she has returned to full time training in an attempt to reach new goals. As always, Nastia does not like to discuss any long-term goals, but prefers to take her gymnastics career one day, one month, and one year at a time. As for 2012 and any further Olympic aspirations, those goals will come to light in due time.