A longtime fan of Olympic gymnastics, I jumped at the chance to talk to goldÂ medalist Nastia Liukin, who lives and trains only minutes from Dallas.
Liukin didn't disappoint: She was so mature and grounded during our talkÂ that it was startling. Â As she pointed out, her years of global travel andÂ rigorous training have provided perspective beyond her 18 years. Still, theÂ sudden celebrity and attention from strangers has her slightly unnerved.
"I think my Dad is a little more freaked out than I am," she said. "PeopleÂ are showing up at our door. It's a little scary."
Liukin and her parents live in a newly built home in Parker, which is a bitÂ more rural than suburban Plano, where she grew up from the age of 3. So whenÂ a random family rang the bell recently, Liukin was surprised. "They said, 'We didn't think you'd be home! We just wanted to say we had been to yourÂ house. Would you autograph our Mapquest directions?' It's weird. I wasÂ thinking, how did you get my address?"
I couldn't resist exploring some gymnastics stereotypes. Like, is her dietÂ restricted?
"I kind of eat the things I know are good for me," she said, giving creditÂ to her parents, the former world-class gymnasts who coach her. "Whatever youÂ put in your body is what you get out of it. So I eat lots of fruits andÂ vegetables and protein and chicken. Nothing is really off limits. If I wantÂ to eat ice cream, I eat ice cream. A lot of people think gymnastics revolvesÂ around your weight, but I don't think so."
I was a little surprised that Liukin, who is obviously very strong, didn'tÂ have the muscle definition common among celebrities and fitness addicts.Â
"I don't lift weights," she said. "For gymnastics, you want long, leanÂ muscle. Everything we do is with our own body weight - climbing the rope,Â leg lifts, press handstands, 50 squat jumps and track, but only like twoÂ miles a couple times a week."
Liukin said she had little time to explore China, but loved the OlympicÂ Village in Beijing.
"It was really cool to be able to walk around the village and see so manyÂ athletes who were all there for the same thing," she said. "One competitionÂ can unite the entire world together."
And, um, do you have the medals here? Could I see them?
She lifted the gold, three silver and one bronze medallion in a clusterÂ from her tote bag, which bore a large peace sign. They're weighty and eachÂ one has a ring of jade on the flip side - white on the gold, pale green onÂ silver, and black on bronze.
Does she feel like America's Sweetheart?
"I still feel like the same Nastia Liukin," she said. "Except now I haveÂ five Olympic medals."