FPM interview: Nastia Liukin talks comebacks, training and Morgan Freeman

Maggie Hendricks
Fourth-Place Medal

After winning all-around gymnastics gold in Beijing, Nastia Liukin decided to take a break from competing full-time in gymnastics to decide what to do next. After the U.S. won team gold at the world championships, Liukin announced that she was going to give the 2012 Olympics a shot. She took a break from training to talk with Fourth-Place Medal about the challenge she faces, the stacked U.S. team, and Morgan Freeman.

Fourth-Place Medal: What made you decide to give the Olympics another shot?

Nastia Liukin: I never lost the passion for the sport of gymnastics, and what's important is to be doing it for the right reasons. I knew that the passion was there, but I also knew that I needed a little bit of time off after training for so many years. I made my final decision earlier this year when I realized that, first of all, I missed it. I missed being in the gym, I missed training. I missed having something to feel like I had a fulfilling day.

Second of all, I knew I'd be in London if I'd be out on the competition floor or not, and I had an image of me sitting in the stands, wishing and hoping I had given it one last shot. I didn't want to have that image become a reality. I owed it to myself to give it one last shot, and enjoy the journey and the whole process behind it. It's definitely a challenge. It's harder than last time because I am four years older, and gymnastics is not one of those sports that gets easier as your get older! At the same time, it's been a really fun journey. I'm testing myself, and the challenge of it has been incredible to see how far I can go.

FPM: Did it inspire you to see that Alicia Sacramone and Shawn Johnson came back to competition?

NL: It was neat to be able to see Alicia and Shawn come back. I guess it made me believe that it's possible to get back to top shape and top form after taking off. It is really cool that we're all trying to make that Olympic team again, but it just makes it harder because there's only five girls making the team this year, instead of six. We're all fighting for that one spot.

You mix in some of the younger girls who are coming in, and they're all giving us a run for our money. They're 16, 17, and they're like we were our first cycle. They're more energetic, but that doesn't mean that we're not as determined and as motivated. It's a really good mixture of girls this year. Going to training camp once a month helps because we're able to bond and learn off of each other.

FPM: Did watching those younger competitors win gold at worlds challenge you to come back?

NL: Being at the world championships in Tokyo, at that point I knew that I did want to train, but if I had any doubt, this is what told me it's what I should do. It motivated me even more seeing how well they did there. Going into the Olympics, how much of a chance Team USA does have to come out on top. At the same time, I knew it would be that much harder. They're all world champions, and they have that experience under their belt. It makes it a fun experience and the journey is a lot different, but the challenge of it is, no matter what happens and no matter what the outcome, I'll be proud of myself for giving it a shot for putting my fears aside and going for it.

FPM: You've worked with Marta Karolyi for years, but didn't tell her your plans to return until after worlds. What was her response to your return?

NL: She was really excited in Tokyo when she found out. A few weeks after that, she told my dad that she wanted me to be at the next training camp, and that was kind an eye-opener. I didn't think I'd be ready to do a training camp until January or February. I went to camp, and she was pleased to see how far along I was. She was optimistic about my progress, and I was added back to the national team just three days into training camp. That definitely made me believe in myself.

FPM: Your father -- who coached you to gold in Beijing -- promised that you will have a crazy bars routine for 2012. Would you like to give any hints of what to expect?

NL: Not yet! As far as my routines, I've just been trying to get my old skills back, and we'll see from there. I know that it's not going enough for me to make the Olympic team and be in the top 5. I don't want to go to the Olympics and know that I was good enough to make the team. I want to go and fight for an individual medal as well as help the team to a medal. We're trying to upgrade, because I know I won't make the team with the routine I had and the talent that is coming in from these girls who are just seniors.

FPM: It seems like routines are getting crazier with their levels of difficulty.

NL: I know. If you take my bar routine from Beijing, the start value was a 7.7. I think now, it's dropped at least six or seven tenths. It's crazy to think that something that just three years ago seemed like it was impossible, and nobody else could top that, now people are topping it and doing so much more. It is starting to get a little bit crazy, but at the same time, it bring out so much in people. It brings out the  best and the most in everybody, and it gives the most to the spectators just watching.

FPM: Do you think that increased difficulty will keep gymnasts from having longer careers?

NL: As long as you play it smart, and watch your training. I'm lucky to have my Dad, because he always watches that. It's always one day at a time, and you have to do quality over quantity. You have to remember, especially now that I'm older, do as many numbers as you did when you were 13 or 14. At the same time, these skills are more dangerous. You have to be careful, and you have to be that more focused.

FPM: What are you working on with Visa?

NL: We're doing a series of training clips to give people behind the scenes looks at our training, because when you're watching a competition, you don't get to see what it takes on a day-to-day basis. It's all going to be a part of the go world campaign, which I'm very honored to be a part of, and was honored to have my ad the last go around, with Morgan Freeman narrating. I've been part of Team Visa since 2006, and even though I haven't competed in a few years, it's great to know they still have faith in me and they're still part of this journey.

FPM: Just having Morgan Freeman narrate any part of your life is amazing.

NL: The fact that he just said my name was kind of cool. Yeah, that's definitely one of the top 10 things that I've done, or that I've had done for me.

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