Gymnastics: Liukin looking out for next Super Girls Shortly after winning the all-around gold medal at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, Lilia Podkopayeva was at a gym in Texas watching a 6-year-old Nastia Liukin train.
Photo Courtesy: freethingstodoindallas.com - Olympic gold medal gymnast, Nastia Liukin.
Shortly after winning the all-around gold medal at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, Lilia Podkopayeva was at a gym in Texas watching a 6-year-old Nastia Liukin train.
Twelve years later, it was Liukin winning the all-around gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Liukin isn’t sure whether any of the 36 girls she’ll watch Friday at the Nastia Liukin Supergirl Cup will follow her path to the Olympic Games, but being able to share some of the opportunities she had growing up with the next generation of gymnasts was reason enough for her to get enthusiastically behind this meet.
Liukin counts meeting and working with many of her gymnastics heroes — such as Podkopayeva, five-time Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comăneci of Romania and 2004 Olympic all-around gold medalist Carly Patterson of Team USA — among those unique opportunities.
There’s a good chance that 36 girls in Jacksonville, Fla., this weekend will count meeting Nastia Liukin as an experience of a lifetime, too.
Liukin, whose parents both were elite gymnasts who represented the former Soviet Union, was fortunate enough to come in contact with many of the top gymnasts and coaches through her parents’ connections. Her father, Valeri, won four medals at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games (two gold), and her mother, Anna Kotchneva, was a world champion rhythmic gymnast. Valeri, now a coach, helped guide Liukin to the Olympic gold. And Liukin had the advantage of training at the same gym where Patterson honed her skills leading up to the Olympic Games in Athens.
But Liukin realizes that many gymnasts are not as fortunate.
That’s why Liukin requested that one of the group meals leading up to the meet includes just her and the gymnasts. At the first Supergirl Cup last year, all of the group activities included coaches, staff members and USA Gymnastics officials, and Liukin sensed that some of the girls were nervous about approaching her and asking questions with coaches and officials around.
“I remember growing up, if I was able to be in the same room as one of my gymnastics idols at the time I probably would have been very shy and nervous,” Liukin said.
“Hopefully I’ll have a little more personal time this year but I think after a few days of training and competition that they finally feel a little more opened up and I think that’s what it’s all about is getting that full experience.”
The full experience is about more than just interacting with the Olympic star. Although some of the competitors are in the elite class, most will likely never have the opportunity to compete in a major competition like, say,the AT&T American Cup, a FIG World Cup event that features top gymnasts from around the world and, conveniently, will be held in Jacksonville the day after the Supergirl Cup.
So one night before the 16 world-class athletes — among them 2010 all-around world champion Aliya Mustafina of Russia