Nastia Liukin on Simone Biles and athletic identity post-competition

Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin of the United States pose together with their medals from the Women's all around Gymnastics event. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)
Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin of the United States pose together with their medals from the Women's all around Gymnastics event. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images) /

Nastia Liukin joined FanSided to talk about the Olympics, Simone Biles putting mental health first, and finding her identity in her post-athletic career.

Five-time Olympic medalist and two-time world champion, Nastia Liukin, is more than the medals and titles she’s acquired. As Olympic Gymnastics have come to a close for Tokyo 2020, Liukin has been front and center through the duration of the competition series, but from a different angle.

Her input has been not only sought out, but appreciated at every level of gymnastic competition, but she’s bringing more to the table than just her knowledge of the sport. Her input on one of the most pressing non-sport topics of this Olympic cycle is why we sat down with her today. That topic being athletic identity and mental health.

Nastia Liukin weighs in on Biles and the importance of physical health and mental health in athletes

With the self-removal of Simone Biles at the peak of the individual all-around, concerns were for Biles well-being and her mental psyche as well. Liukin describes this as something that is one of the most unselfish things an athlete can do.

“[But] in reality, she was actually helping her team. Had she gone up there in the mental state she was in, she would have gotten seriously hurt and the U.S. would have totally gotten out of the competition.” said Liukin.

She was right… Biles had broken toes, kidney stones and a case of the “twisties,” a disorientation where gymnasts struggle to find their ground in bouts of their flips.

In other situations, gymnasts have fell victim to paralysis at the result of said disorientation. The end result was a silver for the United States, but being the second best in the world isn’t too shabby. If Biles were to return for another Olympic Cycle, she can consider a return safely without major injury.

Liukin found herself outside of her sport, something that many athletes, young and old, face day in and day out

As Biles was removed, she didn’t disclose when she would return, but made sure to let people know why she felt the need to remove herself. “There’s more to life than just gymnastics. And it is very unfortunate that it has to happen at this stage because I definitely wanted this Olympics to go a little bit better, but again, take it one day at a time.” said Biles in a report by The Washington Post. 

And more to life there is. Liukin paused her academic endeavors in 2008 at SMU to pursue her Olympic endeavors. Four years later, she chose to retire, and enroll in NYU, but it was not without struggle.

“I truly did feel that I was defined by my sport and by my accomplishments,” said Liukin. “That’s when I realized the importance of doing something and having a passion for something outside of your sport.”

For professional athletes, in particular Olympians, the halt is detrimental to their mental health. The transition out of competition results in loss of routine, and the only thing that many train for years at a time and identify with subconsciously. To be more than an athlete is something that Liukin pushes for all to take note of and consider when navigating their athletic and post-athletic careers.

For Liukin, this is what pushed her to partner with Procter & Gamble’s Athlete’s for Good Fund, which assists athletes from all over to make their transitions out of competition easier. Nastia and Gus are partnering with Procter & Gamble and will be hosting a panel discussion with inspiring Olympians who were recipients of P&G’s Athletes for Good Fund grants.