Nastia Liukin is trying to get back into world champion shape, so what better inspiration than to watch the current NBA champion Dallas Mavericks?
"I'm a huge fan of the Mavs," says the 22-year-old gymnast, who lives in Big D. "Me and my dad are friends with Rick Carlisle. We try to go to as many games as we can when they're home."
After more than two years out of the gym, Liukin has her sights set on Olympic gold once again. She last competed at the 2009 Nationals, but took some time off to explore the possibilities that came with winning the 2008 Olympic individual all-around gold and four other medals in Beijing.
"It's hard to train seven hours a day and handle other obligations," she says. "I had to choose one or the other."
But since October, Liukin has been back in the gym full-time and has inspiration coming from thousands of fans, the Mavs and even Mary Lou Retton.
"She was so supportive," Liukin says of the famed gymnast. "Basically saying, 'all the power to you.' She's a household name. To be able to talk to her about coming back was awesome."
There really was no getting away from the sport for Liukin. Competing in London this summer was always in the back of her mind. And gymnastics is in her blood. Her father, Valeri, won a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Her mother, Anna, was the 1987 World Clubs Champion in rhythmic gymnastics.
The family moved to the United States from Russia when Nastia was just 2 1/2 years old. They brought a lot of their traditions, including their language, which she was reluctant to hold onto at first.
"Growing up, I remember I thought it was so not cool to speak another language, especially Russian," she confesses. "My parents wouldn't talk to me unless it was in Russian. Now I think it's great."
They also cherished their time around meals, including some classics from their homeland. Nastia mentions borscht, a beet soup, as one of her favorites. Her mother cooked for the family every night.
"It was real important for us to come home after a long day and sit down at the dinner table," she says.
Now, it's breakfast that's fueling Nastia's dreams. She is sponsored by Team Kellogg's, which is appropriate since breakfast is pretty important for someone who goes through seven-hour training sessions. She's not quite in top form yet, though.
"I think any Olympic athlete will tell you they're never going to be in the shape they want to be in," Liukin says. "There's always that worry or something in the back of your mind, 'should I have trained that extra Sunday?'"
This quest is different though. Liukin does not plan to compete in every event. She will not attempt to repeat the individual all-around gold medal performance from Beijing. Instead, she wants to help the U.S. women achieve what they fell just shy of at the last Olympics.
"I'm not at my peak like in 2008, but I think I could help the U.S. and that's my goal, to help them win the team gold medal," she says.
Liukin has not made the team yet, and although she's putting everything she has into it, she says she would be okay if her comeback falls short. She has plans for college in the fall, hoping to attend New York University. But for now, she has her eyes on one prize.
"I still have a few months of training to go," she says. "Hopefully that will be enough time."
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