U.S. Gymnast Claims Father's Missed Medal: Interview with Nastia Liukin

With her medals draped around her neck, gymnast Nastia Liukin, a five-time medalist in Beijing and Olympic champion, looks every bit the part.

At 18, this Russian-born American is the daughter of Olympics and world-champion gymnasts. This week, she became a star in her own right, by winning the women's all-around gymnastics finals.

Twenty years ago, at the Seoul Olympic Games, Liukin's father, Valeri, lost the gold in his all-around finals to a fellow Soviet by one-tenth of a point. He now says his daughter "fixed his mistake."

Liukin says she couldn't have gotten here without him.

Supportive Father

Many competitive athletes are motivated by famous role models and untouchable world records, but Liukin is inspired by those in her closest circle, including her Olympian father and her best friends.

She told ABC News in a one-on-one interview that she gets her determination and willpower from her father, who won four Olympic medals -- including two gold -- at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, competing for the former Soviet Union.

Liukin's mother, known then as Anna Kotchneva, was the world champion in rhythmic gymnastics in 1987. Watching old videos of Mrs. Liukin on YouTube, it is clear that her daughter inherited her graceful lines from her mother.

In addition to being genetically blessed, Liukin benefits from having her father double as her coach – making her career a true family pursuit. Liukin says her father is a "tough coach," but after she hops off the beam and uneven bars, he is just a dad who happens to be both her coach and an Olympic champion, too.

"To share that Olympic gold with him made all the difference in the world to me," Liukin told ABC News today. "For him to be able to be here with me, he's the one who'd gotten me to this point. Without him I know I wouldn't have accomplished what I have."

The success of Carly Patterson, the 2004 U.S. national champion and Liukin's best friend, also inspired Liukin to chase gold in Beijing.

At the U.S. Senior Nationals four years ago, Patterson scored 76.450 to take home gold. Liukin, who was 14 at the time, won the junior level with 75.950, a score that would have placed her third at the senior level -- allowing her to go to Athens if she were old enough. Because gymnasts are required to be 16 to compete at the games, Liukin stayed home.

"I feel like when Carly won, she was my teammate and best friend, and seeing the things she was able to do and see, that motivated me. So four years ago I said, 'I want to do that too,'" Liukin told ABC News.

With her goal in mind, Liukin aimed for the Beijing Olympics four years later. In 2004, she told the Dallas Morning News, "This is [Carly's] time. It'll be my time in 2008."

And 2008 was her time indeed.

In Beijing, Liukin has picked up five medals of every color, including a team silver medal and her all-around gold -- tying Shannon Miller and Mary Lou Retton for the most decorated American female Olympics gymnasts ever.

Standing atop the medal podium with the women's all-around gold around her neck, Liukin bit her lip to fight back her tears. As the notes of "The Star Spangled Banner" echoed in the National Indoor Stadium, she flashed her trademark smile.

"The gold medal just felt so amazing," Liukin said today.

"I'm still kind of in shock. I've achieved my biggest dreams in my entire life, so to know that it's finally happened is a dream come true."


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