Before they were stars: Nastia Liukin

Nastia Liukin competes in the women's individual floor final in artistic gymnastics at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games where she went on to win the bronze medal (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Nastia Liukin competes in the women's individual floor final in artistic gymnastics at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games where she went on to win the bronze medal (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Ever wondered what your favourite sportspeople were like before they were super-mega-famous? Every week Tokyo 2020 will give you a glimpse into what life was like for some of the world’s greatest athletes before they were stars.

The Deets

  •  Name: Nastia Liukin
  • Age: 30
  • Nationality: American
  • Profession: Gymnast
Nastia Liukin at age 16
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What has she achieved?

Anastasia Valeryevna Liukin - or more popularly known as Nastia Liukin - was born into a family of champion gymnasts. Her father Valeri Liukin won four medals for the Soviet Union at Seoul 1988 and her mother Anna Kotchneva was a 1987 rhythmic gymnastics world champion.

In 1994, Liukin's father established the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) after moving to the US to teach young kids gymnastics. And at such a young age, Liukin was already showing signs that she would follow in her parents' footsteps.

"She was with us in the gym all the time, doing somersaults and playing around on the apparatus. She'd copy the children we were training and we noticed that she was better than the older kids. My wife and I decided to include Nastia in a smaller gymnastics group," Liukin's father told the Olympic Channel.

At 12, Liukin competed in her first national championships with her father as her coach. She also competed at the Junior Pan American Championships, and helped Team USA land team gold medal.

Unfortunately, she was not eligible to compete in the Olympic Games Athens 2004 due to her age. However, in her first major competition at the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, she won gold medals in the uneven bars and balance beam and a silver medal in all-around and floor exercise.

Nastia Liukin of the United States competes on the beam during the women's individual all-around artistic gymnastics final at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
Nastia Liukin of the United States competes on the beam during the women's individual all-around artistic gymnastics final at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
Julian Finney/Getty Images

This was followed by another stellar performance at the 2007 World Championships, where she clinched balance beam and team golds and silver in the uneven bars.

All in all she won nine World Championship medals (including two silvers at Aarhus in 2006). By that time, Liukin was set and ready for her first Olympic Games.

At Beijing 2008, she won a gold medal in the women’s all-around and silver medals in the women’s team, balance beam and uneven bars, as well as a bronze medal in women’s floor exercise.

She won a total of five medals, making her the third most decorated female gymnast in history and the most successful gymnast at Beijing 2008.

“Just to be here at the Olympic Games is amazing,” Liukin said. “To stand on the podium and hear ‘Olympic champion’ next to my name was a dream come true. I knew it was a close fight and I knew I’d done all I could do,” she told USAgym.org in 2008.

Afterwards, she announced her intention to compete at London 2012 - however after failing to make the cut in the Team USA squad, Liukin retired from professional gymnastics at 22.

Surprising fact

In 2010, and just two years prior before her retirement, she struck a partnership with USA Gymnastics to launch the Nastia Liukin Cup, an annual artistic gymnastics competition for junior gymnasts which serves as a debut for pre-elite competitions on the national stage. The competition has now been ongoing for 10 years, with the last one held in March 2020.

Liukin has become quite an entrepreneur too, with her own line of gymnastics clothes, a lifestyle website and a tech platform that connects female athletes with a network of mentors like her Olympic peers.

She has also ventured into sports commentating, blogging and made cameos in films and TV.

What is she up to now?

Liukin is still a gymnast at heart.

With the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games, Liukin became concerned about how athletes would be able to continue their Olympic workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She has restructured a deal on one of her clothing lines to ensure a section of the proceeds are redirected to affected gyms that are currently closed in lockdown.

In May 2020, she launched a charitable fund to help US gyms that are facing financial ruin as a result of the pandemic.

“I just am trying to do the best I can and hoping this little bit can go a long way for some of these gyms,” Liukin said.

“I wish I could help every single gym out there, and I encourage those that are able and willing to help, whether it's their local community, whether it's emotional support or financial support, whatever it is that you can do to help small businesses during this difficult time,” she told TeamUSA.org.