10 Years On: Nastia Liukin looks back on her golden day
At times, it felt like destiny.
At other times, an impossible dream.
But 10 years ago today, Nastia Liukin achieved her ultimate goal as she joined gymnastics royalty.
In Beijing, Liukin became the 15th woman to win Olympic all-around gold.
Nastia Liukin wins individual all-around gold | Beijing 2008 Replays
Nastia Liukin wins individual all-around gold | Beijing 2008 ReplaysNastia Liukin beats Team USA team-mate Shawn Johnson to the individual all-around gymnastics title at Beijing 2008.
DADDY KNOWS BEST
"I always did gymnastics from day one because I loved it and, obviously, my dream since I was a little girl was to be an Olympian and hopefully to become an Olympic champion just like my dad was." - Nastia Liukin
Her father, and coach, was Valeri Liukin, a double gold medalist at the Seoul Games of 1988.
Her mother, Anna, was a world champion rhythmic gymnast.
Their daughter went on to have a fairytale ending at the Beijing Games, delivering her best when it mattered most.
Liukin had not been at her best until that night, but that was the plan her father had hatched eight months earlier.
They had sat down at the beginning of 2008, plotting a training regime in the lead-up to the Olympic Games.
The main goal was not gold but to be able to look back with no regrets.
"We kind of just make this pact that we were both going to do whatever we possibly could to know at the end of 2008 that we did everything we could regardless of the outcome," said Liukin.
Despite losing out to world champion Shawn Johnson in both the U.S. Nationals and the Olympic Trials, the plan kept her focused.
And it gave her belief that her dream of claiming the Olympic all-around title could become reality.
Liukin recalled, "My dad sat me down and he literally wrote my routines, literally, everything down in paper.
"In that moment, this was probably in January or February, he said, ‘If you can hit four clean routines, there is no chance that you're not going to win.'
"And I just remember those words. As soon as he said that, and he had the facts to prove it – he had it all on paper – so I think when he said that I was like, 'Oh, OK, it is actually possible.'"
A DREAM COME TRUE
Liukin's most memorable moment of the night was the one where 'possible' became probable.
At the end of her floor routine, she was confident she had done enough even with Johnson still to perform.
A year earlier at the World Championships, a split-second moment in that same final pose with her eyes closed showed the disappointment of a fall on the beam which took her out of the medals.
But not that night in Beijing.
Liukin said, "I remember so clearly, looking up at the scoreboard, seeing my score and my dad and I just looking at each other in the eyes and no words were exchanged.
"Nothing was really said, it was just a smile. I think that moment to me was one of the coolest moments to be able to share that with my dad. He was the one who was there through it all."
THE BEST OF RIVALS
While Liukin and Johnson were fierce adversaries in competition, they were friends off it and roommates in the Olympic Village.
They shared experiences few others can understand, but also had similar personalities and interests with both reading, writing in their journals, and going to bed early in Beijing.
The pair were pushing for the same goal and, while only one could achieve it, Liukin notes that they both broke new ground.
"At the end of the day, we were the first American duo to ever go one-two in the all-around at the Olympics, so to be able to make history like that was pretty special." - Nastia Liukin
Fame followed for both Liukin and Johnson, who won the gold medal on the balance beam.
As they capitalised on their Olympic success, they found themselves in a different kind of competition.
Liukin said, "It was literally everybody else saying, 'Shawn got this', 'Nastia got this', 'Shawn got this', 'Nastia is doing this'.
"And it was like all of a sudden, everybody started comparing us and making us compete again each other even though we weren't even doing gymnastics anymore and it was just these life things.
“There was never a moment that this is the reason we aren't friends. It was literally the entire world kind of pitting us against each other."
It reached a crescendo around the time that both she and Johnson got engaged in 2015 with Liukin saying people on Twitter were calling it 'Bride Wars, Part II'.
A FRIENDSHIP RENEWED
As Johnson's wedding in April 2016 approached, she sent Liukin an email.
The pair met in New York where Liukin was living at the time.
Liukin said, "We both started crying. It was the moment of eight years of 'I don’t even know what had happened in between that'."
At Johnson's behest, Liukin and her fiancé Matt Lombardi attended Johnson and Andrew East's wedding.
It was the first time Liukin had met East and the beginning of her second friendship with Johnson.
"It was really, really cool because I think we finally realised that, first of all, nothing happened and, second of all, that there's so much more to life than competing against each other, than being in these made up feuds.
"At the end of the day, we truly still have so much in common."
While Liukin lives in Boston and Johnson East resides in Nashville, the couple are so close that they share an apartment in Los Angeles, although Liukin says they hardly overlap.
But when they do, the Olympic duo can be seen catching a workout together or going to the beach.
As best friends do.
ONTO 'GRANDER' THINGS
Liukin's busy schedule keeps her on the go – from Boston to Los Angeles to New York City and more.
After London 2012, Liukin joined NBC Sports as a gymnastics analyst and her love for the sport and the Olympics is as strong as ever.
"Ever since I truly understood what those five rings meant, I knew that in some way, shape or form, I wanted to stay involved in that movement for the rest of my life," said Liukin, "and so this has been such a fun way to do so."
Now 28, the Moscow-born star was part of the effort which saw Los Angeles awarded the 2028 Games.
As well as her TV work, she and Lombardi have launched 'Grander', a global, digital community aimed at inspiring the next generation of females.
The app currently allows aspiring gymnasts to connect with Olympic champions like Liukin, but the goal is to broaden the audience.
"We hope that this becomes a brand that isn't gymnastics or sports specific.
"If you want to become a lawyer, a scientist, a founder, a CEO, whatever your dreams and your goals are, we hope that this is the place you come to be inspired, get inspiration, content, education, from like-minded female individuals and people who inspire you."
Johnson and fellow Olympic gymnastics champion Laurie Hernandez, Paralympic medallist Amy Purdy, and entrepreneur Amy Jo Martin are among those appearing at Saturday's Grander Summit in Boston where Liukin will be covering the U.S. Gymnastics Nationals for NBC.
Liukin shows no sign of slowing down as she continues to inspire.