Nastia Liukin Recalls 'Pressure' She Felt as an Olympian, Knows Now She's Not 'Defined by a Medal'
The NBC Sports broadcaster and former Olympic gymnast also tells PEOPLE about what she told Simone Biles amid the latter's difficult Tokyo Games
Nastia Liukin's been on the Olympic podium — and now, she's covering the women who've stood on it in Tokyo.
The former gymnast — who was the 2008 individual all-around Olympic champion — is currently on the ground in Japan to cover the Summer Games for NBC Sports. Liukin, 31, says the experience so far has been "rewarding" and, naturally, takes her back to her own time as an Olympian.
It also has her reflecting on some of the pressure that comes with that.
"It's hard to not put pressure on yourself just because you know that you've trained your whole entire life essentially for almost this one goal and this one dream," the five-time medalist says. "And so, there're nerves, there's pressure, there are expectations. ... I obviously can't speak on behalf of everybody, but I know for me specifically, I really just wanted to make everybody proud and it was far more beyond the final result."
She says it "was more so the pressure of knowing that you're representing an entire nation, and you know that everybody's back at home watching and cheering you on and supporting you."
Now, with years to process, Liukin says she's realized that she's not "defined by a medal count." The former Team USA member divulges, "I realized that's not the case — we will never be defined by a medal or a medal count or a job title, a salary, a relationship, any of those things."
It's that message, she says, she hopes gymnast Simone Biles gets after a difficult Games that had her sidelined from all but one of her individual events due to a case of what she called the "twisties," which is a loss of air awareness.
Liukin detailed this, in part, in a powerful open letter to Biles she released last week.
"Hopefully the biggest message I think, is that she's just setting such an incredible example for not only this generation, but so many generations to come," Liukin tells PEOPLE. "And the importance of making sure that you prioritize your mental health and that you prioritize your safety."
The gymnastics analyst notes that while she was able to speak with Biles, she doesn't feel the seven-time Olympic medalist "needs any advice" as she's "experienced and so well-prepared."
"At the same time, it's more so been, trying to get across that … she doesn't need to do anything else out there for anybody to be more proud," Liukin notes, later adding, "She's already inspired millions and millions and millions of people."
As Liukin finishes up her time in Japan with coverage of rhythmic gymnastics for NBC Sports, she's feeling grateful.
"For me to be able to be here and be part of the coverage and especially knowing that no families, no fans, nobody is here, we are trying our absolute best to just be able to bring back the coverage to the families and to the fans back at home," she says.
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.
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