Gymnast Nastia Liukin is making headlines because she’s about to compete again...on “Dancing with the Stars” this time! Nastia five Olympic and nine World medals to her credit. Plus, she won the all-around gold medal in the 2008 Olympic Games. Now, the North Texas native is on the other side of the balance beam, finalizing her preparations for the 2015 AT&T American Cup at AT&T Stadium. She’ll be a commentator for the one-day all-around competition that is the USA’s most prestigious international invitational. The day before, she’ll host The Nastia Liukin Cup, which showcases the country’s top Junior Olympic female gymnasts. It’s a busy time for this champion, but she took time to visit with Dallas Cowboys Sideline Reporter Kristi Scales about the upcoming events. Here are excerpts from their Q&A session originally on 5 point blue.
These girls and guys you’ll see in March at AT&T Stadium are very likely the ones who will be competing in the Olympics in two years.
NASTIA: “I’m excited because we have two events that will be at AT&T Stadium in March. The first will be Friday night, March 6, The Nastia Liukin Cup. There are about 20 to 30 qualifying events from January to March and the top two girls make it onto The Nastia Liukin Cup. About two years before the last Olympics (London 2012), Gabby Douglas competed in the event and she 4th place. Two years later she went on to win the Olympic Games. The event is a great stepping stones for the younger girls. I actually won it two years, in 2006 and 2008.”
Q: When you visited Cowboys headquarters at Valley Ranch and had the chance to watch the players practice, what impressed you? It’s interesting that, unlike the Cowboys who play 16 games a year, as an elite gymnast you only have the major competitions a couple of times a year. Like the Cowboys, you prepare all year. But they have about 65 plays per game, and 16 games. You prepare all year, but get just one chance per event.
NASTIA: “It’s true, we don’t get 16 games. In gymnastics we have only 3 competitions a year, and the Olympics are once every four years. For the Cowboys, the ultimate goal is the Super Bowl. For us, it’s the World Championships and ultimately the Olympics every four years. Obviously you can’t say, ‘Oh, let’s try again next year’ if something doesn’t go your way. That’s why looking back at what happened for me in Beijing (in 2008) was so surreal to know that everything came together at that very moment on that very day. It could have been another day, an off day where your pinkie toe slips off the balance beam and there goes your Gold Medal. So it’s all really about being in the moment. My preparation started when I began gymnastics. Both of my parents were gymnasts, so I grew up in the gym. (Note: Nastia’s dad, Valeri, won a gold medal for Russia in 1998. Her mom, Anna, is a 2007 World Clubs Champion in rhythmic gymnastics). I made the Junior National Team when I was 12 years old. When you’re about to compete, you think about all the past obstacles. You think about the injuries you had to overcome to be in that moment with an American flag on your sleeve. The pressure you put on yourself is quite a lot. And then when you realize you’re doing it not only for yourself but for your country, you feel so much pride and honor. I remember walking into the arena and hearing 20,000 people cheering. For the Cowboys, it’s the same thing for away games. You block everything out and focus on your performance. That’s when it becomes the mental aspect, because you’re more prepared physically than you’ve ever been in your entire life.
Q: In gymnastics, when you have international events like the Olympics, there’s the team competition as well as the individual competition. So you are competing alongside, as teammates, the same people you’ve already had to try to defeat individually. You were opponents individually, but now you’re teammates for your country. In football, the same thing happens. In training camp, you compete against other players, trying to secure your spot on the team. At the same time, they are still your teammates. As a gymnast, how were you able to handle the delicate balance of competition, yet cooperation? That’s a fine line, right?
NASTIA: “Yeah, of course. My greatest competitors were amongst our team. We had other countries, sure, and the Chinese team was extremely strong that year. But just fighting to make a spot on the U.S. team was probably the hardest part for all 6 of us. I would say there were probably 10 to 12 girls who could have been on that team. We’ve always said that we could have put two lineups out there and both would have finished in the top 3 with medals. That’s why every day is so important. Whether or not you feel well, even if you don’t feel your best, you have to perform your best no matter what. The next person is ready to take your spot if you’re not willing. On our team, we spent about 3-to-5 days together every month. We all lived across the country, but we came together for training camp. It got very competitive because it was like, ‘Oh, she’s working on something new so I better step up my game.’ You only control your performance, but seeing your teammates pushes you to work even harder.”
Q: There will be attendees, like myself, who have never seen elite gymnasts compete in-person during an international event. We’re first-timers and have only seen you guys on television.
NASTIA: “Just take it all in. I think everyone realizes the balance beam is only 4 inches wide. But when you see it live, and see how narrow it really is, you’ll see the skills the girls are performing. Even since the Olympics in 2008 when I performed, the level of difficulty has elevated. It’s incredible. And for the men’s competition, the strength the guys demonstrate on the rings is so impressive! At this high level, the gymnasts make it look so easy that you think you could do it. And then you try to get up on a bar or a ring or a beam! (laughing) It’s more like, ‘Okay, never mind!’
But the reason it’s so exciting is that we’re just two years away from the next Olympic Games. These girls and guys you’ll see in March at AT&T Stadium are very likely the ones who will be competing in the Olympics in two years. When you’re watching in the summer of 2016, you’ll say, ‘Oh, I saw him!’ and ‘Yes, I remember her!’ I know people will be impressed by the level of skill and competition.”
**Note: Tickets for the 2015 AT&T American Cup range in price from $35-$250. Tickets may be purchased online through Ticketmaster at ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000. For group (10+ people) sales information, please call AT&T Stadium group sales at (817) 892-8688. Discounted tickets are also available through local gym clubs that participate in the Club Ticket Sales Program. For more information, go to attamericancup.com.