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2008 Summer Olympics Profile: Nastia Liukin

by Eric Gold, Olympic Editor

(Sports Network) - Twenty years ago Valeri Liukin thrilled his Soviet compatriots by capturing a pair of gold medals at the Olympics. Now it's his daughter's turn for glory, but with a different country.

Nastia Liukin is headed to China not only as a premier gymnast, but one that could bring the United States at least one gold medal.

Born in Moscow, Nastia and her family moved from Russia to the U.S. when she was just 2 1/2 years old, right after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The settled in New Orleans before moving to Texas, and she currently lives in Parker, where she trains and is coached by her father.

Valeri won four gymnastics medals at the 1988 Olympics, including two gold, and her mother, Anna Kotchneva, was a 1987 rhythmic gymnastics world champion.

"Knowing it has been exactly 20 years since he's competed and it's my parents' 20th anniversary, it's been a good year so far," Liukin said. "Hopefully it will only get better from here."

It wasn't as if Nastia Liukin was forced into gymnastics when she was little. Her family couldn't afford a babysitter when she was young, thus Nastia came to the gym where her parents worked as coaches. Soon after, Nastia started following other children in their gymnastics routines. Then came the training and her career took off as a junior elite gymnast. Since then she's moved to the top of the senior circuit.

Now 18-years-old, Liukin has become a four-time world champion and four-time U.S. champ. She's currently tied with Shannon Miller for the most World Championship medals won of any American gymnast in history with nine.

Earlier this year, Liukin finished first on the balance beam and uneven bar, and scored a second-place finish in the all-around competition at nationals. It was a repeat performance at the U.S. Olympic trials in June, and she also came in second on floor.

The expectations are growing in advance of Beijing and Liukin has embraced the pressure.

"Pressure is always something my dad has taught me to not get in my head," Liukin said. "That's kind of what I've learned. I'm doing gymnastics because I love the sport. I'm not trying to please anybody. I know people have expectations for me, but I block that out of my head."

She's also staying busy outside the sport. Right after the trials, she was involved in a photoshoot for Vanilla Star Jeans and had a trip to New York for a second appearance in a week on the Today Show to promote her role as a spokeswoman for Covergirl.

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