“My dad always told me being nervous is actually a good thing,” Liukin said. “That means you really care about it, and you want to try your best and you want to do your best. It’s important to be nervous, but it’s also important to take those nerves and turn them into a positive thing.”
Liukin, the daughter of champion gymnasts Valeri Liukin and Anna Kotchneva, and a native of Parker, Texas, won five medals for the United States in gymnastics as an 18-year-old at the 2008 Olympics, including a gold in the All-Around category. She also was the 2005 and 2007 world champion on the balance beam and 2005 champion on the uneven bars.
Now 22, Liukin recently fell short of a comeback bid at the Olympic Trials in San Jose, Calif., but she ended her career to a standing ovation and is in London as the athlete representative for the Federation of International Gymnasts.
She came through Sandy Springs earlier this month, making stops at Hammond Gym and Jump Start Gym, in part to promote the 2012 Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastic Champions this fall. Liukin and members of the 2011 World Championship and 2012 Olympic teams will put on gymnastic and artistic shows around the country, including a stop at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth on Oct. 27.
The crowd of girls at Jump Start Gym looked star struck when she strolled in.
“I think they were kind of shell-shocked,” Jump Start booster club member Travis King said. “I thought they’d be screaming and hollering when she walked in.”
Liukin encouraged the young gymnasts to habitually strive for improvement in all aspects of life.
“No matter what you do, there’s going to be times that are tough,” Liukin said. “That’s why it’s so important to set goals for yourself. (My parents) never forced me or made me do gymnastics. They always said, ‘As long as you love it, you can do it, but you always have to set a goal for yourself.’”
As for the U.S. team’s chances in London, she said she thought this was the best Olympic squad yet to represent the red, white and blue.
“It’ll be nerve-wracking for me to watch, but I have to try to stay as neutral as possible with my position. Deep down, I’ll be cheering for our girls,” she said, drawing appreciative laughter.
Liukin will attend New York University beginning in January, where she intends to study sports management.