The Stunning Transformation Of Nastia Liukin

Anastasia Valeryevna Lyukina, better known to the world as Nastia Liukin, is a gymnastics legend. Born in Moscow, Liukin moved to the U.S. with her family as a little girl and went on to become part of the 2008 Olympics' U.S. women's national gymnastics team. Liukin won four individual medals at the Summer Olympics in Beijing that year in addition to also helping her team win silver, but there is far more to the celebrated athlete than her illustrious athletic career.

Since retiring from gymnastics in 2012, Liukin has remained involved with the sport, but she has also branched out to other fields. The gold medal-winning Olympian is now a writer and an entrepreneur and is flourishing in many other ways. Liukin has changed quite a lot since she captured hearts all over the world at the 2008 Summer Olympics; here is a closer look at just how far she has come.

Nastia Liukin has gymnastics in her blood

Unless you follow the world of gymnastics very closely, you may not know that Nastia Liukin is gymnastics royalty. Liukin spent her earliest years in Russia, where her parents were both celebrated athletes. As noted by Britannica, her mother, Anna Kochneva, won the 1987 world rhythmic gymnastics championship in clubs while her father, Valery Lyukin, won four medals in gymnastics at the 1988 Olympics.

It's a daunting legacy, but Liukin swears that her parents didn't force her to follow in their footsteps — although they've both coached her. The athlete told Parents that she "was born with a little gymnastics in [her] blood" and that she has always "had such a passion for it." According to Liukin, her parents just wanted her to follow her dreams. "They always made sure it was my decision that I wanted to do the sport," she said.

Liukin's parents didn't only inspire her; they also supported her on her way to the Olympics. "Without them, I wouldn't be here today and have become the person that I am," she told Sarah's Backstage Pass.

Nastia Liukin grew up in the public eye

Even before she headed to the Olympics, Nastia Liukin was gaining a lot of international attention — at least among gymnastics fans. Her skill was evident at a young age. "I had my first competition at 6 years old, but I don't remember much about it," she told Woman's Day. "By the time I was 12, I was an Elite gymnast." That same year she made the Junior National team.

Over the next few years, Liukin won some pretty big titles, noted Britannica. It was clear she was becoming an Olympic contender, but she just wasn't old enough yet to compete at the event. In 2005, she won gold at the Gymnastics World Championships on uneven bars and balance beam and silver in the floor exercise and all-around competition. In 2008, she finally headed to the Olympics.

Even before she competed at the Olympics, Liukin had caught the attention of a wider, international audience in the lead-up to the event. The New York Times reported in August 2008 that the 18-year-old's many lucrative endorsements included CoverGirl, Secret, and Vanilla Star jeans. Little did she know that her fame was about to grow even more.

Winning Olympic gold achieved a family goal for Nastia Liukin

Winning gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics wasn't just a win for Nastia Liukin, it was a win for her whole family. The gold medal she snagged in the all-around competition was significant as her father, Valeri, had very nearly won gold in that same event at the 1988 Summer Olympics, losing the medal by a mere one-tenth of a point. "To share that Olympic gold with him made all the difference in the world to me," Liukin told ABC News after her win.

Liukin's father, who coached her to victory, said that his daughter had "fixed his mistake." In an interview with Gymnovosti, the older Olympian said he was even prouder of his daughter's wins than his own. "I realized that training an Olympic champion is much harder than becoming an Olympic champion," he said.

In addition to her gold medal in the all-around competition, Liukin won silver medals on balance beam and uneven bars and a bronze medal in the floor exercise. She also won a silver medal with Team USA, matching the U.S. gymnastics record for the most medals won by an athlete at a single Olympic Games.

Nastia Liukin launched her own gymnastics competition

As a kid, Nastia Liukin dreamed of winning gold at the Olympics. Today, young gymnasts dream of winning big at the Nastia Liukin Cup. Liukin founded the self-made gymnastics competition shortly after her Olympic win, and the competition has been held every year since 2010. Per the Nastia Liukin Cup website, the event was created by Liukin and USA Gymnastics and "provide[s] a competitive opportunity for the country's top Junior Olympic gymnasts." Money from the gymnastics competition goes to the Nastia Liukin Fund, which benefits young gymnasts who are in need of financial assistance.

"I was always wanting to give back to the next generation," Liukin told Wisconsin radio station WTMJ of her motivation for starting the competition. The gymnast added that she wanted "to give these young women the opportunity to compete on the big stage under the bright lights on national television."

This is why Nastia Liukin retired from gymnastics

After Nastia Liukin's stunning performance at the 2008 Summer Olympics, she could have retired. Between the Olympics and competing at world championships, she'd won a total of 14 medals, after all, and no one would have blamed her if she'd wanted to quit. But she wasn't ready. Even her father and coach, Valeri, was surprised that she wanted to keep going. "I think he was confused because we did everything we set out to do in 2008," she told The Denver Post. "Winning the all-around gold medal, nothing can top that."

Unfortunately, another round at the Olympics wasn't in the cards for the gymnast. While she tried out for the 2012 Olympic team, she ended up falling on her face — literally — and didn't make it. Liukin hadn't planned to retire from the sport quite so soon, but that fall made her "evaluate what was truly important," she told Bustle.

Liukin said that the fall changed everything, and she now sees it "as the pivotal juncture of my career," as it helped her realize that her worth was not "defined by results." After failing to make the 2012 Olympic team, she announced her retirement from the sport. 

Nastia Liukin struggled to find herself outside of gymnastics

After she retired from gymnastics, Nastia Liukin had trouble finding herself. For so long, her life had been focused on the sport, and she didn't know who she was without it. Thankfully, she'd already achieved her lifelong dream of winning Olympic gold, but that also left her without a major goal to work towards. "I flailed a bit, for sure," she admitted to Bustle.

It took some time, but Liukin finally came to an important conclusion; achieving her dream was a wonderful thing, but there was a lot more to live for. "It's the moments that lead up to or follow that moment of glory, the messy, gritty, challenging moments that speak to who you are," she said.

After retiring, Liukin suddenly had more time to explore her passions outside the sport. While she "didn't love it at first," Liukin soon realized that there were so many doors open to her and grew to appreciate the world of opportunity before her.

After her retirement, Nastia Liukin faced severe body shaming

Retiring from gymnastics meant that Nastia Liukin was no longer training for several hours a day every day, and she gained some weight due to the lifestyle change. "People remembered me as this petite blond gymnast in a leotard, and then I go through the normal body changes and people are like, 'Oh my God. You're so fat,'" the gymnast told StyleCaster.

Liukin pointed out that she wasn't overweight at the time but that her "body [was] going through this change," albeit "in the public eye." The public was relentless, and it took a toll on her self-esteem. Liukin became a recluse, wearing "really baggy clothes" and avoiding being seen in public. "I was so insecure with myself and my body because of what other people were saying," she revealed.

Liukin was still exercising regularly, but her body had changed and she had some trouble accepting that. She eventually got there, though. "It took a few years — it was a trial and error process, particularly with beauty and fitness," she told Into the Gloss.

Nastia Liukin competed on Dancing With the Stars

Nastia Liukin may no longer be a competitive gymnast, but she still has some serious moves. The Olympic medalist showed off her graceful dancing skills in 2015 when she competed on Dancing With the Stars. Liukin performed well on the dance competition, although she didn't win. She did make it pretty far, though, making it to the semifinals and coming just short of finals week.

Making Liukin's stint on the show more impressive is that she danced with two professional dance partners as her partner, Derek Hough, was injured during the season, forcing her to dance with Sasha Farber for several dances. This meant she had to keep up with the grueling pace of the show and learn to adjust to a new partner's dance style. Ever the hard worker, Liukin rose to the challenge.

"I definitely didn't want to leave, but it was a good night," she said on Good Morning America after her elimination (via ABC News).

Nastia Liukin wrote a book about her life

It may have been her athletic prowess that made her famous, but gymnastics is far from Nastia Liukin's only talent. Liukin also has some pretty impressive writing skills, as she wrote a book about her journey to the Olympics and beyond in the 2015 memoir Finding My Shine. The book also provides "motivational tips toward reaching any goal," inspired not only by her success but by the fall that ended her comeback in 2012. 

"Writing a book has always been a dream of mine," she told Just Jared Jr. Liukin had started working on her memoir after moving to New York, where she said she "slowly began to find my shine again" following her retirement from gymnastics.

Liukin is also a prolific blogger, writing about her life on everything from style tips to travel advice on her website. Liukin revealed in an interview with Origin Magazine's Maranda Pleasant that writing is also a way for her to unwind and that she enjoys "sitting in a park or anywhere with fresh air and drinking a cup of hot tea while reading or writing in a journal."

Nastia Liukin graduated from this prestigious university

Her retirement from gymnastics meant that Nastia Liukin was able to pursue other opportunities like going to college. The Olympian attended New York University, graduating in 2016 with a degree in sports management, as noted by NBC Olympics

Liukin revealed in an Instagram post that going to college had always been part of the plan, even while she was dreaming of the Olympics. The athlete wrote, "My dad told me that you'll never know how far your gymnastics career will take you, but an education will stick with you for the rest of my life."

Liukin told NBC Olympics that she decided on her major because she "wanted to learn more about the business aspects of sports" after so many years competing in gymnastics. She also felt that the degree in sports management would help her be "more hands on with [her] own career."

Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson put their rivalry to rest

While Nastia Liukin and her fellow gymnast Shawn Johnson were friends during their days as teammates on the U.S. women's national gymnastics team, the 2008 Olympics drove something of a wedge between them. The media painted the two as rivals, and, while Liukin and Johnson didn't see themselves that way, the rumors took a toll on their friendship. They eventually stopped speaking to each other. "We kind of felt like, well, they don't want us to be friends," said Johnson in a 2018 YouTube video filmed with Liukin. "They won't allow us to be friends."

The rift remained for eight years until Johnson sent an e-mail to her former teammate. Both women had been missing each other and quickly rekindled their friendship after Johnson reached out. "Sports is just such a small part of your life, yet a big part of your life," said Liukin in the YouTube video. "It brought us together. It drove us apart. It brought us back together."

Liukin and Johnson are best friends again, and Johnson even named Liukin as the godmother to her daughter in 2019, noted Good Morning America.

Nastia Liukin called off her engagement

In 2015, Nastia Liukin announced that she was engaged to entrepreneur Matt Lombardi. Alas, things didn't work out between the two, and they eventually ended up calling it quits. The breakup was rough on Liukin, who told People that "it was scary" because she was convinced she "was gonna spend the rest of [her] life with" Lombardi. She admitted to feeling "like a failure" after the end of the engagement.

Thankfully, Liukin was able to pull through the tough time with the "support and love" from "some amazing people." Two of those people were her best friend Shawn Johnson and Johnson's husband, Andrew East. The two couples lived together before the breakup, Liukin revealed on East's podcast (via the Daily Mail), and Liukin remained in the household after the split. 

It was a difficult time in her life, but Liukin said, "I don't regret a single thing at all."

Nastia Liukin may one day be better known as an entrepreneur than as a gymnast

Nastia Liukin's days as a competitive gymnast may be behind her, but she is more than thriving with a net worth of $2 million, per Celebrity Net Worth. That's a sum that's sure to grow with all of the projects she's working on, including a collaboration with beauty brand Volition, with whom she's collaborated on a moisturizer.

Liukin is also the co-founder of the app Grander (later rebranded as The Muse Collective), "that was created with the mission of inspiring, empowering, and providing multifaceted resources to the next generation of female leaders."

Being an entrepreneur may be different from being an athlete but, to Liukin, it's a natural continuation of her gymnastics training. "Whether you're starting your own business, you're part of a startup, or you're raising a round of funding, you have to have the blood, sweat, and tears just like I did training for the Olympics," she told Dallas Innovates. "That's how you have to feel every single day."

Nastia Liukin is fighting for mental health awareness

Nastia Liukin is all about giving back, and one big way is through raising awareness about mental health. In 2021, she participated in The Big Fight, described on its Facebook page as "a livestream fitness competition ... created to raise awareness for suicide prevention."

"I'm just really proud to bring awareness to the cause and normalize talking about mental health," Liukin told Inside Gymnastics, adding that she "feel[s] a responsibility to bring awareness to this."

That's not the only way she's using her fame and fortune. In 2020, Liukin donated money to gyms struggling to stay in business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, telling Team USA, "It's like, what can I do to help this community that means so much to me?" The cause was a personal one for Liukin as her father is the co-founder of a gym and she spent a lot of time there training for the Olympics. "I put myself back in my 16-year-old self and thinking that I possibly might not be able to return to the gym that I'm training at for the Olympics," she said. "It's very scary."