As the 28.7 million Americans who watched this summer’s Beijing Olympics know, Liukin parlayed that extraordinary athletic prowess into a gold medal in all-around gymnastics, one of only three U.S. women ever to do so. Now, she’s looking to make the transition from balance beam to brand spokesperson equally as fluently.
“Gymnastics is the sport where, every four years, America gets to pick its sweetheart,” says Evan Morgenstein, president and chief executive officer of Premier Management Group and the man who’s crafting the strategy for Brand Nastia. “It’s unique in that you get to see the most beautiful of the young female athletes combined with a true sense of athleticism, sports camaraderie and competition.”
“It’s one of the few sports that’s a mix of beauty and performance,” agrees Jason Dial, director of global sports marketing for Procter & Gamble, for whom Liukin acts as a spokesperson for Cover Girl, Herbal Essences and Secret. “It’s the number-one viewed sport in the Olympics. People love the blend of beauty and performance.”
Liukin has already felt the love. In short order after winning gold, Wheaties announced she would grace its iconic cereal box. She beamed out from the cover of Us magazine with sister gymnast Shawn Johnson, then regaled Jay Leno with tales of her gold-medal win. She dished with radio and TV host Ryan Seacrest about her love of the hit show Gossip Girl, and was subsequently invited to make a guest appearance on the show by a producer who happened to see her at dinner that evening. Fashion week found her front row at such shows as Peter Som and BCBG Max Azria, then she embarked on a 37-city tour of gymnastics superstars.
Heady stuff, to be sure, but thus far, Liukin seems as bemused by her success as beholden to it. “Being recognized is still kind of weird for me,” she says, calling the experience of seeing her face on a Wheaties box in the grocery store “surreal. Nothing can prepare you. I’m going with the flow and just trying to enjoy every moment of it.”
Of course, some things have changed. Prior to the Olympics, Liukin capped off her girlishly loopy autograph with a heart; now she includes the five Olympic rings incorporated into 2008 with the word “Gold” written underneath. Like most young women her age, she loves music, movies and shopping, and is still new enough to the celeb scene to be awed that people clamor to get near her. “During fashion week, it was so weird that people wanted to meet me,” she laughs.
“I couldn’t believe how fast the show was,” she continues, when asked her assessment of being a first-time fashionista. “I was with [tennis player] Maria Sharapova and she told me it’s all about the preshow, the interview and the pictures!”