Nastia Liukin won the gold medal in the all-around competition for the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 2008 Olympics, cementing her place in that sport's history. Now 26, Liukin is still competing and will be in Minneapolis on Oct. 9 as part of the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions. She chatted recently with the Star Tribune's Michael Rand:
Q Is it still a thrill to compete when it's in an event like this instead of in elite national team competition?
A I feel like the one thing I miss the most about competing and being retired is performing, so to be able to do that every single night on the Kellogg's Tour it is thrilling. It's exciting. To be able to perform and be in front of a crowd, I haven't done that for four years — well, I did a little with "Dancing with the Stars" — but I love it so much and I'm really happy to be a part of it.
Q That reminds me, I have to ask about "Dancing with the Stars" last year. How much fun was that?
A It was a lot of fun. I was still in school at NYU at the time and the show was live in L.A., so it was a lot of travel. … I've obviously done TV work, but that was a very different kind of TV. It's a produced reality show. I'm used to going out and competing and the best score wins. That was probably the only thing strange. The week before the finals when we got voted off, we had two dances and got perfect scores and we got voted off.
Q When you win an individual all-around gold medal at the Olympics, how much does that follow you around through the rest of your life?
A I think my day-to-day life is so normal. I don't even have my medal where I live — it's with my parents in a safe. It's not something that is necessarily part of my life day to day. But I know I'm on the tour because of that, so there are times in my life that you remember that. I do know that I'm living the life that I am because of what I did, and it gave me a lot of amazing opportunities. It came with a lot of hard work and sacrifice. But I also try to live a normal life with my fiancé.
Q Doing analyst work for the Olympics — how hard was it to critique fellow gymnasts?
A It was a little challenging because I knew these girls so well and I'm friends with them. … There were times where I had to separate and think, 'I'm here to do a job and they hired me because I know a lot about gymnastics.' There's a difference between critiquing and analyzing. There's a way to analyze in a positive light, and I try to do that because I've been in their shoes. At the end of the day it's just gymnastics. Yes, we've been waiting our life for that moment, but there's more to life than gymnastics.
Q You graduated from NYU a few months ago. Is that something you always intended to do and what was that sense of accomplishment like?
A I felt almost more accomplished when I walked across the stage to get my diploma than I did when I won the gold medal. To see my mom and dad in the seats, I just wanted to make them proud. … I want to have kids someday, and I want them to know you can't just fall back on your previous accomplishments. Even if you achieve one goal, you can keep setting new ones.