Earlier today, I spoke to Olympic all-around gymnastics champion Nastia Liukin, who won five medals at these games. I was blown away by how well-composed she is and how great of a corporate spokesperson she is. Here's what she had to say about the sports marketing business:
Darren: You have a lot of deals in terms of endorsements. How do you like the business world?
Nastia: You know, coming into gymnastics, I would have never thought I would have gotten myself into what I have right now. But honestly, it is so much fun and the things I'm able to do.
Darren: Tell me about how seeing yourself on advertisements has actually helped you?
Nastia:Visa has been with me for about four years now -- so they have always supported me and never lost hope and faith in me. I think that really made the difference, you know, why I'm here today. The first time I walked into the Olympic athlete village seeing the Visa ATM machine with my picture on it and the Chinese characters saying "Destiny." For some reason, it just boosted my confidence and it was before I had even worked out or had my first training or competed.
Darren: The fact that you haven't announced that you're going to be at another Olympics, how do you think that will affect your ability to be out there?
Nastia: I haven't decided that I'm not going to be at another Olympics. I am taking it step by step, and we have a three-month tour coming up, so we're all excited about that. But I am taking it one step at a time and year by year and the World Championships are in October 2009 so that's kind of the next thing I've been looking towards. Four years is a long way away but I am sure it is going to go by pretty fast. Just thinking about it now is pretty far away, but I am definitely not turning it down now.
Darren: Tell me about the tour.
Nastia: It's about a 35-city tour that we're doing all over the U.S. It's like a gymnastics show -- obviously not Olympic-level routines -- but performances more with music and costumes, group numbers that the girls and guys are going to be doing. So it's really a lot of fun. You get to travel on a tour bus and stay in different hotels.
Darren: From a marketing standpoint, the fact that you won the all-around, you can say you're the Olympic champion. A lot of people say the other medals -- not to downgrade them -- are just a hodgepodge to people back home. So how important is it for you to be called the Olympic champion?
Nastia: Obviously from a marketing standpoint, the Olympic champion definitely gets all the things from that, but going into this competition I knew that I would have so many opportunities if I won a gold medal in the all-around. Talking with (her agent) Evan and hearing all the things that Carly (Patterson) got to do in 2004 after she won, but at the same time, I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself. I knew that life isn't always just about the Olympic gold medals and the sponsors. Those are just the things that are like a cherry on top and you get to do what you love to do and what I love to do is gymnastics. I've had so much fun being here and just being able to become the Olympic champion and get so many opportunities. I am just so excited to get back home and get on the road and start this whole thing.
Darren: The growth spurt you had. Some people say that's a positive for the marketing world because sometime these gymnasts are shorter than the general population. People can say she looks like us. Do you play that as a positive?
Nastia: I think so. I definitely set myself apart from the other girls. I am the tallest one on our team -- you know just at 5-foot-3, but I think my long lines also make me look taller than I am -- especially on TV so I've heard.
Darren: Shannon Miller also has five medals like you, so does Mary Lou Retton. Shannon Miller is known more in the gymnastics world. Mary Lou Retton has been a marketing icon over time. Which way do you want to go?
Nastia: I would love to be out there like Mary Lou. You ask any person in the U.S. and they know who Mary Lou Retton is. And I hope that in four, five and six years from now, people will still know that I became the Olympic champion in Beijing -- the biggest Olympic games yet. At the same time I would love to stay in gymnastics too, so I hope to do both of them if that's possible. Gymnastics has set me up for this and I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for gymnastics so I'd like to stay involved in gymnastics even if I am not competing. I also want to get out there in the world and do some acting and fashion and modeling.
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