“This is a huge deal! I’m so excited to be back,” Liukin, 26, tells PEOPLE. “I’ve been keeping track of all the gymnasts in the competitions leading up. I’ve gotten to know the gymnasts, their start values and their routines.”
She adds, “it’s a little challenging, though, because when I’m commentating I have to remain neutral and I’m still friends with these girls, so that’s hard for me!”
The five-time Olympic medalist and two-time all-around national champion will join former Olympian Tim Daggett, play-by-play voice Al Trautwig and primetime correspondent coaching legend Bela Karolyi as an NBC analyst in Brazil.
“As a recent gymnast and someone who still keeps in touch with all of the girls, I’m really able to give that insight into their entire world,” she says. “I put my game face on when I’m working, but when the mics are off I am still close with the girls!”
Liukin, who retired from the sport in 2012, says she is absolutely “thrilled” to be analyzing this year’s games – especially with an exceptionally strong slew of Team U.S.A. gymnast hopefuls.
“It’s going to be a great Olympics because you most likely have one of the strongest athletes in history competing, Simone Biles,” she says. “It’s a joy to watch her, she perfects everything.”
According to Liukin, 2016 could be “the biggest year ever,” for women’s gymnastics.
“You really don’t want to miss it,” she says. “These Games are going to be huge.”