Olympic gymnast turned entrepreneur Nastia Liukin, 28, was born in Moscow, Russia, and raised in Dallas. At the Olympics in 2008, she won five medals for the U.S., including the gold in the all-around competition. She also earned nine medals in the World Championships during her career. After retiring, she’s modeled for BCBG/Max Azria, launched a signature clothing Supergirl by Nastia—at JC Penney and competed on Dancing With the Stars. In 2016, she graduated from New York University, and she now lives in Boston with her fiance, former BC hockey player Matt Lombardi.
Jonathan Soroff: What are the three qualities every top gymnast has?
Nastia Liukin: Dedication, determination, and a little bit of crazy.
You’ve competed all over the world. Favorite place? Well, Beijing was extremely special, because it’s where I became an Olympic gold medalist. But it’s funny. I was there for an entire month, and I never got to see the Great Wall, or see and do anything along those lines. I didn’t really see much of the city, although every time I hear the word “Beijing,” it just resonates because that was such a memorable moment.
Ever look back at footage of yourself and say, “What was I thinking with that outfit?” I’ve had a few “What was I thinking?” moments. I think it’s more like, when I look back at the Olympics, I was 18 years old, and I was wearing this hot-pink leotard with a matching pink scrunchy. So that’s my embarrassing moment, but at the time, as a gymnast, that was kind of just what you did.
Did you decide to win the gold just because it matches your hair? [Laughs.] That’s a good one. It’s funny, because I get asked a lot if I did my own hair and makeup for the competition. I did, and I barely wore any makeup, except for a little bit of gold eye shadow.
When you’re a gymnast, what’s the thing that just hurts all the time? Your hands. I always did a lot of uneven bars, and the callouses on my hands were just awful.
Body part you can touch that I can’t? I can do a ring kick backward, so that my heel can touch my forehead.
Definitely something I can’t do. Fashion trend you’re most sick of? I get rid of a lot of clothes, so I feel like everything in my closet is what I actually wear. I purge about once a season. But I’ll go with bandage dresses. Those need to go, in my opinion.
Does the color pink go with everything? No. [Laughs.] Definitely not. It’s so funny that it’s become this signature color for me, and everyone assumes it’s my favorite color, but it’s really not. It resonates with my brand, but it’s not necessarily my favorite. It changes with the seasons. Right now, I’m really into maroon and olive green. Around the holidays, I love red and some metallics. So I don’t really have a favorite color in general.
Designer you’d most like to be compared to? I’m going to go with Stella McCartney.
Isn’t it unfair to have a champion gymnast on Dancing With the Stars? Yes. There are definitely advantages that I had, like picking up routines a little bit quicker. I was used to choreography. But then I do have to say that there are so many things that were a lot harder for me. I was so used to being on the floor by myself, so dancing with a partner and having someone all up in my space was strange for me. Also, doing everything in heels. I was used to being barefoot all the time. Trying to learn how to dance in heels was different. I had also never taken dance in my entire life, so trying to salsa or samba in front of millions of people was intimidating. But any athlete has an advantage.
Does Derek Hough have sweaty hands? [Laughs.] I don’t remember them being extra sweaty. I mean, we rehearsed so many hours, but I don’t think his hands were any sweatier than an average person.
Party trick you use to show off in front of large groups of people? Well, I always get asked, no matter where I am, whether it’s with little kids or adults, if I can do a flip. I feel like that’s just kinda going to stick with me for the rest of my life, because that’s just what people want to see from a gymnast.
What skill would people be surprised to learn you have? [Laughs.] I feel like literally every egg in my basket went into gymnastics. I don’t have any other weird talents. I don’t know how to sew, which is really sad. I like to cook, but my fiance is a better cook than I am, so he just does it and lets me clean up.
Last pumpkin spice thing you ate? Well, I’m literally looking at a pumpkin spice candle that I just lit, but I had a pumpkin spice roiboos tea last night.
Matt Lombardi is a better cook than you are? Oh, yeah. He’s great in the kitchen.
Were you a hockey fan before you met him? Not really. Growing up in Texas, I went to some Dallas Stars games, and when I was living in New York, I went to some Rangers games, but not really.
Can you skate? No, I cannot. I tried once or twice. What I learned is that the correct posture for gymnastics, which is shoulders back, doesn’t really work on the ice, because you fall backward.
Worst injury? I’ve had multiple injuries. I had an ankle injury that required surgery, a few fractures in my back. But I think the worst was when I broke my nose on the uneven bars. I was supposed to catch it, and I was too close, and I literally smashed my face into the bar. That was not fun, or pretty.
Fill in this blank: Gymnasts have the best ___. I’m going to say abs. Core strength.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Probably being able to teleport. We live in Boston, but we spend a lot of time in LA, and that flight is just brutal. So it would be great to just snap my fingers and be there.
Now that you’re not competing, can you do more with your hair than you used to? Oh, my gosh, yes! I always had to keep it a certain length, because if it got too long, when I’d go upside down, my ponytail would hit me in my eye, blinding me, which is never good when you’re upside down on a four-inch balance beam. It was kind of this annoying length where it never looked good down, but it worked for gymnastics. Now I can grow it however I want.
Watch the behind the scenes cover shoot with Nastia Liukin
Will Boston stay your home, or are you and Matt nomads? No. I really finally feel like we’ve created our home here. I was born in Moscow, grew up in Dallas. I moved to New York to go to NYU, and I literally moved apartments every single year. So I’ve felt like I really didn’t have a home since I moved out of my parents’ house at 19. Finally, I feel like we’ve established a base, and when I’m on the road, I can’t wait to get back to Boston.
Growing up, did kids make fun of your name? Oh, yes. All the time. My full name is actually Anastasia, and I never went by it. I don’t know why. Nastia is the typical Russian short version of it, but as I got older, I thought, “I wish I’d just gone by Anastasia.”
Would you let your child compete as a gymnast? Sure, if they wanted to. My parents actually didn’t want me to do gymnastics, because both of them had done it and they knew how hard it was. As their only child, they just wanted me to be happy, but my happiness came from gymnastics. I would totally support my child doing it, but I would never push them into it.
What advice would you give an aspiring gymnast? My golden piece of advice—which is something my mom always told me—was: “You can never quit on a bad day.” After a bad day of training, I’d say I wanted to stop, and she’d say, “That’s fine, but not today.” She’d make me go back to the gym until I had a good day, and then she’d say, “You can make that decision.” But after a good day, of course, I never wanted to quit. I think that piece of advice applies across the board in life.
Where do you keep your medals? They are stored in my parents’ house in Dallas in a safe.
Are gold medals heavy? One by itself isn’t bad, but because I won five medals at that Olympics, all of those combined are definitely a little heavy.
How do you want to be remembered? That’s a really great question, because obviously the medals are amazing, but I don’t want to be remembered just for winning five Olympic medals. Right now, I’m working on a new business and a new project with my fiance. It’s an app called Grander Sports. Our hope is to inspire the next generation of female athletes in all sports. With so much going on with women, we want to create a safe community where these girls can be heard and ask questions and feel comfortable. So I hope to be remembered for inspiring the next generation.
Cover photo: J Heroun; Styling: Madison Guest; Hair: Jana Rago; Makeup: Jaccqui / Charles Maksou; Wardrobe on the cover: H&M sweater, Sam Coat, Charlotte Simone Hat, Rag and Bone scarf; Wardrobe at top of page: ASOS hat and coat, Kate Spade sweater