Nastia Liukin won the Olympic all-around gymnastics competition back in 2008, taking home the gold medal and leading the U.S. team to silver in the most high-profile sport of the Beijing summer Games. Liukin, hair pulled back into a jaunty ponytail and wearing a bright fuchsia leotard, was the darling of the Games.
Since then, she’s retired from competition (after not making the 2012 squad), earned a sports management degree from New York University, and gotten engaged to former Boston College hockey player Matt Lombardi.
Now, as she heads toward her June wedding and gets wrapped up in all the planning that entails, she’s speaking out about the very challenging body issues she faced because of the weight she gained after she stopped her grueling competitive workouts.
“Going through that in the public eye. … People remembered me as this little petite thing in a pink leotard. They would see me in normal clothes and I’d gained 25 pounds. I didn’t know what to do,” Liukin, 27, tells Yahoo Style. “My body was in shock. When you’re training, you don’t worry about working out. I did struggle for a while. Mentally, it was really challenging.”
It took the gymnast a beat to figure out what worked for her body, as she’s a big proponent of never comparing yourself to others, and loving yourself. For her, it is a work in progress.
“I was never as strong or powerful as some of my competitors, but I worked with what I had,” she says. “After I finished competing, it took me a few years — your body freaks out. I went through a roller coaster, gaining 25 pounds and not knowing what to do or what to eat. I wasn’t training anymore. Now I know what works best for me. I do Pilates and hot yoga and running. I can’t physically run every day, so I do it twice a week or three times a week. I do core-power yoga. I love spinning. Otherwise I get bored.”
Now much of Liukin’s focus is on planning her wedding to Lombardi; the two just redecorated their home — found by Lombardi — with help from Joss & Main.
“The framework was only done. We were able to create what we wanted inside,” she says of the house, which they moved into in December. “I was in Rio for the month, and I went on a 40-city gymnastics tour. My fiancé did a lot of it. I give him a lot of credit.”
The vibe now: cozy neutrals. “It was important for us to create a place where we could come home and relax and unwind,” she says.
Their sexiest, most private space is — unsurprisingly — the bedroom. “We obviously spend a lot of time in the living room and kitchen. It’s one big area. The bedroom is that one space — it’s our space, and we wanted to create something that we loved and felt comfortable in,” says Liukin.
The couple’s nuptials will take place in Newport, R.I., and Liukin is having her dress custom-made by Reem Acra. (And yes, she plans to nosh on the wedding grub, which is to include a full New England seafood menu.)
Although she’s retired from competition, the gymnast still performs with tours and shows, and tries to exercise every day. She’s building a gym at home to make that easier. And while she’s “so proud” of her accomplishments, she says, “It’s not something I look at every single day. My day-to-day life is normal. We have a normal relationship. That’s the way I like it most. I want to be able to look back and not have winning the gold medal being the only thing I accomplished.”
Speaking of the sport, though, Liukin is proud of how far it’s come. Let’s recall that the most recent all-around winner, Simone Biles, by no means has the whippet-thin frame of former champions like Nadia Comaneci. Biles is all muscle and power.
“That’s what I love about gymnastics now. Everyone has such a different body type and different strengths. To me that’s really cool and empowering. Simone is the best in the world today, and she’s so strong,” says Liukin. “She excels at what she does. She’s proud of her body type. She’s so accepting of her body. That, to me, is empowering.”
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