Strength Training with Nastia Liukin

Winning Olympic gold in women's gymnastics proved Nastia Liukin's athletic mettle. Now she's out to affirm her might on the marketing front as well.

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Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 12/12/2008
Long, lean and willowy in a sport where the athletes tend toward the prepubescent, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Liukin personifies fresh young beauty. But those who saw her compete in the Beijing games know she’s got a game face as inscrutable as a Xi’an warrior. Liukin’s ability to focus during competition is legendary. Her mother gave her the book The Secret shortly before the Olympics, and its message about visualizing success resonated. “I’ve always been so focused when I compete,” she says. “I don’t like to look around me. I do a lot of visualization. I think about my routines over and over and the right way to perform them, from sticking the dismount to saluting at the end.”

Now, she’s bringing that same single-mindedness to bear on her life beyond gymnastics. Liukin—who is a five-time Olympic medalist, four-time world champion, nine-time world medalist, four-time U.S. national champion and, in 2008, also won both the Pacific Rim and American Cup titles—counts AT&T, Adidas, Visa and P&G as sponsors, all of whom signed the 19-year-old before she won gold. She’s also got deals with the jeans company Vanilla Star, the sports equipment manufacturer AAI and Beacon Street Girls, a social networking site aimed at teens. In the spring, she’ll appear in ads for MaxAzria, while a fragrance deal and line of jewelry are in the planning stages, though nothing has yet been signed.

The deals range in scope: For P&G, Liukin acts as a spokesperson for the various brands. For Vanilla Star, she is featured in the ad campaign and is also introducing a denim line under the moniker Nastia’s Gold. Her goal—representing a new direction in sports marketing—is to be more than just a talking head. It’s to be a vested partner. “She owns equity in some of the companies and projects,” says Morgenstein. “You’re not having to go through a sieve of endorsement deals forever, where you get one one millionth of a penny for every dollar a product you endorsed brought in. There’s so much opportunity now for athletes to take the risk and be rewarded for it.”

Still, it’s a feat that’s as difficult to pull off as a full twisting double back. “Our biggest question is, how long is the window?” says Mark Levy, president of Vanilla Star Jeans, questioning how long an athlete can maintain public interest. “We think Nastia will turn into the exception because of her goals and what she stands for. She’s aspirational because she wants to prove that any girl can live her dream, and her appearance on Gossip Girl will definitely rekindle excitement.”

To transcend her life beyond the gym, Team Liukin has created a brand positioning centered around promoting healthy living for young women. “Her message is about fighting teen obesity, getting kids active, giving kids the opportunity to have fun and be healthy,” says Morgenstein, who speaks as quickly as a Liukin tumbling pass. “There’s a certain reality to how sports works, and our goal is to put her in a position where her success isn’t tied to sports.”
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