Nastia Liukin was working as a social media correspondent during the visit of the International Olympic Committee’s Evaluation Commission to Los Angeles. She talked to the Soviet Sport about why she thinks the Games should be awarded to Los Angeles. The interview was in Russian and we made a translation, below.
Q: Nastya, the other day the president of the Russian Federation, in an interview with an Olympic historian, said that the United States is one of the world’s sports superpowers and has great chances to win the honor of hosting the Olympic Games. Are you surprised that President Putin expressed support for Los Angeles, and how, in your opinion, can his statement be regarded in the US?
A: I think, it’s great if a country like Russia, with rich Olympic traditions and experience of holding the Olympic Games, decides to support the US. Especially if Russia itself is going to submit an Olympic bid in the future, they will now be interested in how Los Angeles prepares for the Games. If there will be cooperation between the two countries, in my opinion, it will only benefit both sides. The more countries support each other in the process of Olympic applications, the better. So, this is good news, especially for me. I was born in Moscow, my grandparents still live there. Yes, I competed for the US and I consider myself an American, because I grew up here, but Russia always remains a part of me.
Q: It seems that you’ve already made a choice regarding which of the two cities, Los Angeles or Paris, should be given the Olympics-2024?
A: Yes, of course, I am hands down supporting Los Angeles. I moved to the US when I was two years old, so for me, America is my home and will always remain my home. This country has given so many opportunities to me and my family. My parents, as you know, have successfully competed for the Soviet Union. My dad competed in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, won two gold and two silver medals. My mother was the 1987 World Champion in rhythmic gymnastics. I was born in 1989, and when I was 2,5 years old, we decided – that is, they, of course, decided – to move to the US. First of all, because they dreamed of opening a gym to raise their own World and Olympics champions. Of course, they did not yet think that their own daughter would become a champion.
When they moved, they couldn’t speak a word of English, they did not have a penny in their pocket, only a small child in their arms and their dreams. And now, looking at the two successful schools that they created, the three Olympic champions they raised, many World and National champions, and how they built it all with their own hands, from scratch, without anyone’s help, without subsidies, even without advice… The older I get, the better I understand how difficult it was: to move to a new country, having nothing but hope, and how lucky I was that they went for it for the sake of their dreams and my future.
I guess the Olympic spirit is in my blood. The moment I won in Beijing, I realized that, like my parents, I can achieve everything if I believe in myself, work hard and do not despair when something is going wrong. When people said: “This is not for you”. I remember how often I was told that I would never become an all-around Olympic champion. That I’m too thin, too small, too old, too this and too that. And I refused to listen and continued to believe in my dream. That’s why I support the Los Angeles Olympic bid. I experienced unforgettable moments in Beijing, and the only thing that could have made them even more magical would be to win at home, in front of American fans. In general, of course, wherever the Olympics are, it’s always magical, because whatever happens in the world, people leave their political and religious beliefs, they all join together for two weeks for the sake of that moment and the opportunity to represent their country and take part in the Olympic movement. Right now here there is a lot of talking about the quality of the arenas, about the technical, the financial side of the Olympic Games, about this and that, but we shouldn’t forget that ultimately the Olympics are the athletes. Without them, there won’t be ratings or any tickets sold, or anything that is currently being discussed. See how many former and current athletes support Los Angeles. Because they believe that it is the place where their fellow athletes will be provided with the perfect environment.
Q: Your belief that Los Angeles is perfect for the athletes is understandable. But this is not the only criterion for the selection. The city and the country hosting the Olympic Games, as a rule, promise to themselves and to the world that there will be some positive changes for the city, its population, the future generations. And these forecasts and promises, unfortunately, do not always come true.
A: Yes, sometimes instead of the positive changes just the opposite happens.
Q: Do you believe that the Olympics held in Los Angeles will have a positive influence? On the city, country, the Olympic movement?
A: You know, in 1984 I was not yet born, but everyone says that these were very successful and positive Games, and they inspired the next generation of athletes. It is very important to me. I remember watching the Olympics as a child and thinking: that’s what I want! I want to be just like them!
Q: What were the first games you remember?
A: Atlanta in 1996 and the Magnificent Seven. I was about seven years old at that time, and I remember how I was just glued to the TV, I thought: wow, how cool, I would want to do this one day!
Q: Were you already doing gymnastics at that time?
A: Yes, I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was three. But this was the first Olympics I was consciously watching, when I already understood what was what, what was the real meaning of the things. And I already knew that my dad was also at the Olympics, that he also won medals. I think it was then that I felt how important it is for a person to have role models, whether it’s a famous athlete, someone you know only from the TV screen or just a strong personality in your life. I think Los Angeles-2024 is a chance for athletes to become such models for a new generation, to set a high bar for the future. After all, children are our future. In a hundred years we will not be here, but our children and the children of their children will continue to grow, looking at their Olympic heroes. That is why, I think, it is important that the city that wants to host the Olympics be able to hold it at the highest level. That both athletes and the new generation are satisfied and continue to do sports. If I’m not mistaken, the 1984 Games turned out to be profitable…
Q: You’re not mistaken…
A: And this doesn’t happen every time. Take the Olympics in Rio and many others, recently. Take the Beijing Olympics. After all, these were “my” games. For me to see now the “Bird’s Nest” (Beijing National Stadium) empty and desolated, it’s… I just want to ask: “Why did this happen?”
Q: It’s a shame, right?
A: Yes, it’s a shame and it makes me sad. For myself, for my emotions, for the Olympics. This would never happen in Los Angeles. Because all of the Olympic platforms already exist and are in excellent condition, and the competitions are held there every day. Take the Staples Center, which will become the Olympic arena. This is the legendary sports facility associated with the names of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Imagine how many Olympic moments will be born there, and how then more and more spectators and athletes will be coming there and dive into the Olympic atmosphere. It would be crazy to think that the Staples Center could be empty, right?
Q: The Olympic movement is such a complex and all-embracing phenomenon, isn’t it? The Olympics are important, as you have said, to the athletes and to the billions of fans from around the world, and to the city that hosts it, and to the country. Why at this stage is Los Angeles, where the Games have already been held twice, is the best option, in your opinion? Why not give an opportunity to rise to someplace else that now needs a charge of Olympic optimism? To the wounded Paris, for example?
A: I do not mind if a city would be helped by being awarded hosting the Olympics. But, personally, it would be difficult for me to make such a decision. After all, there is no guarantee that the city and the country will be better off from the Olympics. Such hopes were associated with the Games in Rio, in other countries! Obviously, it’s very, very difficult to hold the Olympics successfully. It’s hard to change a huge city, especially for the better. In my opinion, now it is most important to choose a city that will not incur millions, billions of losses. Where it is not necessary to build beautiful stadiums, which then will be empty. Choose a city that is stable, firmly on its feet, and can concentrate on planning unforgettable Games at a level that will inspire a new generation and will make the best impression on both the athletes and the IOC.
Q: Do you agree with the statement that the Olympic movement is experiencing a certain crisis now and Los Angeles-2024 can help overcome it?
A: I heard such statements, of course. To be honest, I do not know how to answer this question. I’m not an IOC member and do not know all the details. One day, I would happily join the Olympic movement, whether it would working on the national organizing committee or in the IOC, or in some other capacity because I love everything connected with the Olympics. I don’t know if there is a crisis or there isn’t, but I’m sure that the Games in Los Angeles will be a positive moment for the IOC because they will show an example of how you can do this without getting into debt and without spending public money. Take, for example, the company that worked on the bid. If I’m not mistaken, they spent $66 million, and this was all private funding.
Q: Let’s say that the Olympics in Los Angeles would have such a positive impact on the world of sports, as you see it. Well, does Los Angeles really need the Olympics? It seems that children’s and mass sports here are already in a decent state, there’s nowhere to grow.
A: Of course Los Angeles needs the Games! Really needs them! Like everything else in the world, the sports life of the country must evolve and develop. If you stop feeding your body, it will shut down. If you stop watering the flowers, they will wither. The next generation of athletes should be raised, it will not take on its own. Every Olympic Games are the food that feeds the national sport.