Liukin finds “just Nastia”

6000By Jo-Ann Barnas

PITTSBURGH – Nastia Liukin is a believer of a simple mantra: Good news can happen at any place and anytime.

Even while crossing a busy intersection on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

As luck would have it, that’s where the 2008 Olympic women’s all-around gold medalist was when she received an email on her phone informing her that she had been elected to the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

“I was so shocked, I almost got hit by a cab,” Liukin said with a laugh. “I’m like, it hasn’t been that long has it? Six years? It’s very surreal to think of me being in the Hall of Fame.”

Liukin is one of six individuals who will be inducted on Friday during the P&G Championships and USA Gymnastics National Congress & Trade Show. The others: Longtime University of Illinois men’s gymnastics head coach Yoshi Hayasaki; 2002 world uneven bars champion and two-time Olympic medalist Courtney Kupets; three-time U.S. rhythmic gymnastics all-around champion Lisa Wang; and 2004 Olympic silver medalist Blaine Wilson. Acrobatic gymnastics judge and administrator Jola Jones will receive a Lifetime Achievement honor.

The P&G Gymnastics Championships start Thursday at Consol Energy Center. Day one of the junior women is at 1 p.m., senior women at 7:30 p.m..

Liukin won five medals in Beijing, tying her with Mary Lou Retton (1984) and Shannon Miller (1992) for most in an Olympics by a U.S. female gymnast. Her crowing moment came when she won the individual all-around title, just like Retton did in ’84 – and fellow U.S. gymnast Carly Patterson four years before.

Liukin also won three silver medals (team, uneven bars and balance beam) and captured the bronze on floor exercise.

Liukin, 24, is in Pittsburgh this week working as a commentator for NBC. On Wednesday, she sat in press row watching the junior women practice. Next month, she will return to NYU for her junior year. She’s taking 19 credits – a challenge that she plans to embrace like a perfectly struck landing on uneven bars.

“I love NYU and I love New York,” Liukin said. “It has forced me in a way to grow up. I love the energy of it. For once in my life, I have friends outside gymnastics. I’ll be 25 this year. It’s the first year that I’ve figured who I am as just Nastia. I don’t want to be the one who – as proud as I am of what I did in Beijing – that Aug. 15, 2008 isn’t the only thing that defines me. I want to be successful in other ways, to be driven in other aspects of my life.”