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September 3, 2008 7:39 PM

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Coming Out of the Woodwork: Nastia Liukin on Her New Fans

A longtime fan of Olympic gymnastics, I jumped at the chance to talk to gold medalist Nastia Liukin, who lives and trains only minutes from Dallas.Liukin didn't disappoint: She was so mature and grounded during our talk that it was startling.  As...

A longtime fan of Olympic gymnastics, I jumped at the chance to talk to gold medalist Nastia Liukin, who lives and trains only minutes from Dallas.


Liukin didn't disappoint: She was so mature and grounded during our talk that it was startling.  As she pointed out, her years of global travel and rigorous training have provided perspective beyond her 18 years. Still, the 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. "People 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 bit more rural than suburban Plano, where she grew up from the age of 3. So when 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 your house. Would you autograph our Mapquest directions?' It's weird. I was thinking, how did you get my address?"


I couldn't resist exploring some gymnastics stereotypes. Like, is her diet restricted?


"I kind of eat the things I know are good for me," she said, giving credit to her parents, the former world-class gymnasts who coach her. "Whatever you put in your body is what you get out of it. So I eat lots of fruits and vegetables and protein and chicken. Nothing is really off limits. If I want to eat ice cream, I eat ice cream. A lot of people think gymnastics revolves around your weight, but I don't think so."


I was a little surprised that Liukin, who is obviously very strong, didn't have the muscle definition common among celebrities and fitness addicts. 

"I don't lift weights," she said. "For gymnastics, you want long, lean muscle. Everything we do is with our own body weight - climbing the rope, leg lifts, press handstands, 50 squat jumps and track, but only like two miles a couple times a week."


Liukin said she had little time to explore China, but loved the Olympic Village in Beijing.


"It was really cool to be able to walk around the village and see so many athletes who were all there for the same thing," she said. "One competition 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 cluster from her tote bag, which bore a large peace sign. They're weighty and each one has a ring of jade on the flip side - white on the gold, pale green on 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 have five Olympic medals."
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