Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kellogg's
The nation’s best gymnasts are gathering today in San Jose, Calif., to compete for just five slots that will guarantee them entry to the Olympic Games in London next month. While young guns like Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman are getting lots of media attention during practice runs this week, five-time Olympic medalist Nastia Liukin is also in the mix, vying for a second chance at gold.
Born in Russia and raised in Dallas, Liukin began competing in the sport at age 6, was an elite gymnast by 12; now, at 22 years old, she's the defending Olympic all-around gold medalist. And while 22 is considered incrediblly young in most professions, in the gymnastics world, Liukin is an elder who must fight for her spot on the Olympics team. "I know that I've already achieved my goals and dreams in this sport, so if it doesn't happen for me, I'm okay,” the gymnast told iVillage recently. "But right now I am focused and my goal is to make that team."
iVillage was lucky enough to chat with Liukin while she was gearing up for the Trials, and we caught up with her about everything from her grueling training schedule and just wanting to hug her mom to daydreaming about leotards and moving to New York. Check out our full interview below.
You’re currently preparing for the London Olympics, can you walk me through your weekly/daily training schedule?
I am training basically the same amount that I was before the Beijing Olympics in 2008. My day is spent in the gym from 8-12, then home for a couple of hours, then back to the gym from 3-6. I'm also running about five times a week -- and for the record, I am by no means a long-distance runner -- but I aim for two to three miles a day, I find that it helps my gymnastics, helps my endurance, it tones me and keeps me feeling healthy. I definitely don't love the treadmill. When I'm on it I feel stuck, like I’m not going anywhere. I like running outside and enjoying the scenery.
The Olympics are just around the corner, how are you feeling?
I am definitely getting a little bit nervous -- anywhere I am, anything I’m watching or reading, the word “Olympics” is in there. It gets me anxious and freaks me out a little bit! But it’s such an exciting time in any athlete’s career. For so many it’s once in a lifetime opportunity and for me it’s happening twice. This time around I’m really trying to enjoy the journey.
What was the best part of participating in the Olympics? The worst part?
Just being able to represent Team U.S.A. at something so big is really crazy. It’s such a cool moment when you finally realize that you’ve made it, this is what your dream is. It’s hard to explain it until you are there, feeling that energy, that passion, from fans and volunteers too.
The bad part is that you do get sick of eating the same thing over and over, by the end of that trip you’re just like “I want to go home and eat something normal!” It’s also pretty stressful, no matter how prepared or confident you are, feeling the stress is inevitable. And we’re not allowed to see any friends or family until we’re done competing -- that’s a rule for gymnasts -- so it makes competing hard. You’re gone for so long, sometimes all you want to do is give your mom a hug!
Were you aware growing up that your childhood was different from other American kids?
No, I wasn’t aware that anything about my childhood was “different.” Growing up I was in the gym more than I was at home -- we literally only went home to sleep. It wasn’t until I took some time off recently that I realized that training seven hours a day is not normal!
Do you think you missed out by being a child athlete?
I really don’t think I missed out on anything. I got to do something that I love. My parents would try to make me leave the gym, to take that leotard off, but I loved it there -- having that passion is what made me stick with it. The gym was my playground. I started traveling internationally at 12 years old, which is not something a normal 12 year old would be able to do. If there was something I missed out on, I think all the experiences I had made up for it.
Gymnasts get to wear such fun outfits, how do you decide what to wear when you’re competing?
At the Olympics, we have no say in our leotards. But I actually design all of my own leotards and have since I was 12 years old. Some people like writing songs or poems, but for me, I always have ideas for leotards in my head. Since 2008, I’ve had my own line of leotards with GK Elit, it’s so fun seeing little kids running around the gym in my creations.
Do you have a boyfriend? How do you make time for relationships?
I don’t have a boyfriend, it’s definitely hard when you are training seven hours a day to make time for a relationship. Dating will always be there though, so I’m just really focusing on myself right now. I know it sounds a little selfish, but at times you have to be!
What’s your plan after this summer?
Whatever happens -- if I go to the Olympics or I don’t -- I want to know that I’m done training when it’s all over. I’m hoping to go to NYU, if I’m lucky enough to get in! I’ve been in Dallas my whole life, it’s definitely home and I’ll likely move back one day, but I’m looking forward to branching out of Texas and discovering the city.
Watch Jordyn Wieber on dealing with the pressures of being a favorite for Olympic gold in gymnastics.
Courtney Thompson is iVillage’s senior homepage producer. Follow her on Twitter: @courtneythomp.