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Gymnastics

A bright, shiny future

August 21, 2008
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BEIJING - Nastia Liukin is going to have a very busy life outside of gymnastics. That doesn't mean the American gold medalist is putting gymnastics out of her life.

The Olympic all-around champion and winner of five medals in Beijing is considering competing at next year's world championships in London.

"I'd love to stay around," Liukin said yesterday. "Gymnastics has meant so much to me. I'm going to be busy, but I'd love to keep going.

"I feel there's one more medal at worlds I can win to give me 10. I missed out on an all-around medal last year, so I kind of feel like it's meant to be."

Liukin is 18 and would be 22 for the 2012 Olympics, also in London. That can be ancient in women's gymnastics. She also has dozens of opportunities outside sports - and millions of dollars in earnings - awaiting her back home.

Those include appearances on a variety of TV shows; a spot on the cover of US Weekly; a nationwide tour with the other US gymnasts; and a magazine cover shoot with Maria Sharapova in New York Sept. 8, just after the US Open tennis tournament concludes.

"When she got an e-mail from Sharapova inviting her to do the shoot, it was about as big as winning the gold medal," said her agent, Evan Morgenstein. "Nastia really looks up to her."

She also mentioned trying TV work, acting and perhaps modeling. She's already done some of that, with her face omnipresent on ATMs throughout Beijing.

"Visa put the Chinese characters on the ATMs that say 'destiny,' " she said, smiling at the thought of taking money out of a machine that has her picture on it.

When Liukin was asked about competing beyond these Games, her father/coach Valeri, himself owner of four Olympic medals - his daughter has five - interrupted: "I'd like to know that, too."

To which USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny added: "So do we."

Valeri Liukin listed the challenges Nastia would face should she stay at it. For one, the code of scoring will be changing again next year, which means more adjustments in his daughter's routines. There also is the possibility of injuries, which plagued her in 2007, and even another growth spurt. Nastia said she already has gone through two of those.

Plus, there is the inevitable string of distractions that come with being the "queen of gymnastics" at the Olympics.

"As long as she wants to do it," Valeri Liukin said. "She's not saying she will do four more years. She will take it one at a time."

Nastia Liukin said the camaraderie on the US team will be a big factor in her decisions about competing. She often has referred to her teammates as family, and those frequent trips to the Karolyi ranch outside Houston became a way to bond.

"Leaving the ranch this last time was funny," she said. "There is one sign, 'Y'all come back.' Alicia [Sacramone] was the first to say, 'I won't be back. I'm done.' Everyone else was kind of iffy.

"Even when I didn't know gymnastics would be my life, I enjoyed it. If you don't love your job, it's probably time to get a new one."

And she still loves it. (AP)

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