Nastia Mulls 2012 Return

The star treatment is great, and anyone who wins an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics should revel in her fair share of that. What Nastia Liukin really wants, though, is to get back in the gym.

She's thinking about London -- world championships this year and, yes, maybe even the Olympics in 2012.

"I mean, you know, why not?" Liukin said of the possibility of defending her all-around gold medal four years from now.

Though it hasn't happened in a while, it's not unheard of for an Olympic champion to try for a repeat. Most notably, Nadia Comaneci came back after her history-making, perfect-10 performance in Montreal. She finished second in Moscow.

Liukin is 19 -- not a great age for most woman gymnasts to be thinking about a four-year extension. But she's also tall (5-foot-3 is considered tall for gymnasts) and lithe, probably not as susceptible to changes in her physique that might derail her skills. Her mother, Anna, is a former rhythmic gymnastics champion who looks like she could still compete today.

"The most important part is my health," said Liukin, slowed by an ankle injury in 2007 that affected her preparation for Beijing. "Besides that, I've been thinking about it and gymnastics is, like, my life. All the time I've had off from it, I'm ready to get home and get in the gym."

Back home in Dallas, she will enroll at SMU, where she plans to take a limited course load so she can free up time to resume her training. The next U.S. team training camp is set for Jan. 25 and Liukin plans on being there.

"A lot of people say, `Why do you keep going?"' she said. "For me, gymnastics is something I've always had a passion for. It's something I love to do."

For the best in the world, it has its rewards.

Not until two weeks ago did Liukin spend her first full week at home since July.

Training camps, the trip to Beijing, Fashion Week in New York, and a post-Olympic whirlwind of photo shoots, sponsorship meetings, TV shows and other personal appearances have kept her calendar full. Most recently, she was in Denver speaking to the crowd and signing autographs before a Denver-Nebraska college gymnastics meet.

"Just lots of plans. Her agent has lots of plans for her," said Liukin's father and coach, Valeri, himself the winner of four Olympic medals for the Soviet Union in 1988.

Nastia has her own trademark name brand "Nastia Gold," with jeans, T-shirts, hoodies and gymnastics gear as part of the line. She recently did a fashion shoot for high-end designer Max Azria. She's been on Leno, "Gossip Girl" and Oprah. And on the Wheaties box, of course, though she is showing a range that goes well beyond the typical Olympic winner.

"There haven't been a lot of Olympic athletes with this unique an opportunity," said her agent, Evan Morgenstein. "I'm not stupid. I know when you get her seated in the front row at fashion shows, it's not because they all love gymnastics. It's because the recognize her as something unique and different."

It has, overall, been quite a star turn for Liukin, who was viewed by many as an underdog to Shawn Johnson in the buildup to the Olympics.

A friendly rivalry ensued and one of the best Olympic all-arounds was the result. Liukin beat her teammate and Olympic roommate by six-tenths of a point. Johnson already had an edge in name and face recognition but Liukin, with that gold medal, didn't take long to catch up.

Liukin is feeling totally healthy after her six-month break, and itching to get back in shape.

"We're doing these meetings and she said, `You know, to my surprise, I wake up in the morning and want to get back in the gym. I miss the gym,"' Morgenstein said. "It's where she feels comfortable. How can something bad come of that? She wants to do it for the right reasons."

A slight tweak in gymnastics rules that goes into effect this year should help Liukin's longevity, too. Gymnasts will be asked to focus more on dance moves and turns, not as much on big jumps, and the graceful part of the sport has always been where Liukin has shined.

Gymnastics, of course, is an unforgiving sport, especially for girls. They're often considered washed up at 18. At an Olympics dominated by news of the Chinese possibly being too young, Liukin proved there's room for all ages -- on the medal stand, too.

Counting the team event and three more medals she won in event finals, Nastia left Beijing with five Olympic medals, one more than her dad picked up in 1988. Valeri countered by saying he won one more gold than she did. The debate could be resumed in 2012. For now, it's good for a few laughs.

"I don't do it to win medals, for fame or anything like that," she said. "I do it because I love competing and being out there. So, I'm going to definitely try to get back into things. I want to see how it goes."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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