By Amy Rosewater – TeamUSA.org
At the Olympic and Paralympic Games, U.S. medalists have the opportunity to reward their coaches with a medal of their own: the Order of the Ikkos. And it is supposed to represent the countless hours a coach provides to guide the athlete to the medal stand.
Truth be told, nothing can truly symbolize what the coach-athlete relationship can mean.
In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, TeamUSA.org collected some stories from athletes who wanted to give thanks to their coaches for all they have done for them in their careers.
NASTIA LIUKIN, Olympic gold medalist gymnast
There are very few athletes who can follow in their parents’ athletic footsteps, and even fewer can be coached by their parents to the elite level. In the case of Nastia Liukin, it was even more intense. Her father, Valeri, is one of the most decorated gymnasts from the Soviet Union, having won four Olympic medals (two gold) and just barely losing the all-around title in the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games. Twenty years later, in Beijing, he was back at the Games but this time, coaching his daughter on the mat. Nastia did not disappoint, winning the all-around gold.
People often ask Nastia what it is like to train with her father, and it is an answer that cannot be explained in a sound bite. But Nastia will say the most important trait her father had in terms of coaching her is the belief he has in her.
“He was always the one who said, ‘You can do this,'” Nastia said. “I remember this very vividly, especially after I had my (ankle) injury the year before the Olympics. He sat me down and calculated the scores and was very strategic. He showed me it really was possible to win the all-around gold medal.
“He knows me as a person but as a competitor, and he’s always been realistic. There were times when things weren’t going so well, but he always knew exactly what I needed to do. So when he sat me down at the beginning of 2008, he showed me he believed in me. Without his support, I don’t think it would have happened. I’m thankful to him for that.”
Nastia won’t be able to share Thanksgiving this year with her father since he will be in Mexico, but she will spend the holiday with her mother. All three of them plan to go skiing over the Christmas holiday, and Nastia said she is thankful she will be able to strap on some skis this trip. Two years ago, she didn’t hit the slopes because she feared getting injured while she was training for the 2012 Games.
This year, however, she doesn’t have to worry. She just wrapped up the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, which performed in about 40 cities nationwide. The last tour stop was in New York, where Liukin will be spending a lot of time in the near future as she starts her life as a college student at New York University in January.