Nastia Liukin has fond memories of the Wells Fargo Center. It was there, at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, that she earned a trip to the 2008 Beijing Games. Liukin won five medals in China, including gold for the all-around.
“Philadelphia has been a good place to me,” Liukin told Metro. “Good memories, I made the Olympic team there, so I’m excited to come back.”
Liukin is returning Friday as one of the headliners in the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions. The show — described as half-gymnastics, half-Cirque du Soleil — also features 2012 gold-medal winners Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross.
“It’s definitely a little bit different than any competition you’ll see on TV, it’s more of a show,” Liukin said. “A lot of fun music, different costumes — not just the leotards you see at the Olympics.”
The last time the world saw Liukin in a leotard was at this past year’s Olympic trials in San Jose, where she fell flat on her face after missing on the uneven bars. The crash ended her Olympic dream and her gymnastics career. Liukin received two standing ovations.
“I know I gave it my best effort,” she said. “I finished my gymnastics career with absolutely no regrets. Two standing ovations from 20,000 people ranks right up there with my accomplishments, with winning the all-around gold medal four years ago.”
With that chapter now closed, the 23-year-old Liukin is focusing on earning a degree in sports management at New York University. Her plan is to move to New York in January, then graduate in four years. When the question of her legacy to the sport comes up, Liukin fights for the right words. She doesn’t want to put herself on any pedestal.
“I don’t know [what my legacy is]. I don’t necessarily like to do that,” Liukin said. “I guess I proved whatever I proved at that time of year, and I hope people will remember me for what I was able to bring to the sport. Remember me as trying to be unique and different and still being able to be on top.”
Rising star: Advice for Gabby Douglas
Gabby Douglas was the story of the 2012 London Games. The 16-year-old won two gold medals, including the all-around. Since then, Douglas has befriended Michelle Obama, landed an ad campaign for nail polish and done the TV circuit.
“In my dreams I didn’t think about how many shows I would be on and how many people would tweet me ... it’s so cool!” Douglas recently told Essence magazine.
Nastia Liukin was 18 when she won gold, but she knows the transition from girl next door to celebrity is complicated. The most important thing is to stay true to yourself and enjoy it.
“Enjoy every single moment because it will go by in the blink of an eye,” Liukin said.
“You don’t know what’s going to be thrown at you or come your way. I never really understood exactly why everyone wanted to know stuff about your personal life. Gymnastics is one of the most popular sports at the Olympic Games every four years. It’s important to surround yourself with the people you really trust and care about you.”
Douglas became the first African-American to win gold in the all-around. Liukin has been impressed with her development and hopes it spikes interest in gymnastics within the black community.
“She proved to everybody that she’s the best in the world,” Liukin said. “I see her fan base coming out to a lot of shows, I definitely think so.”