She is spending most of her time around Washington Square these days as a student at NYU, but Olympic champion Nastia Liukin still has gymnastics coursing through her veins. That is why the 2008 overall champion, and one of the most decorated female Olympians ever for the U.S., will be back trying to help grow the sport she loves in May, as a coach for a team of current and future U.S. Olympians when a new event, “Pro Gymnastics Challenge,” debuts at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, Pa., May 10 and 11.
The event, which will feature some of the greatest current and future male and female gymnasts, will be held in a team format, but with a very unique twist, with the competitors doing a “skill vs. skill” challenge with men competing against women for points and prize money. The World Team will be coached by the legendary Svetlana Boguinskaia, a five-time World Champion and three-time Olympic gold medalist, while Liukin will be joined by three time Olympian Blaine Wilson coaching Team USA.
The event was created by Brent Klaus, CEO of International Gymnastics Camp, the world’s premier gymnastics facility. It will be televised as a three-part series on ESPN2 on May 20, 21 and 22.
Liukin is the 2008 Olympic All Around Champion, five time Olympic medalist, four time World Champion, nine time World medalist, four time US National Champion and has won two American Cup titles and both a Senior and Junior Pacific Rim Championship. Following her success in Beijing she was named FIG Athlete of the Year, Women’s Sports Foundation Individual Sportswoman of the Year and the United States Sports Academy’s Female Athlete of the Year.
She will join athletes representing no fewer than 12 nations participating in the event. The U.S. team will be led by two time Olympian and silver medalist Jonathan Horton, 2012 Olympian Jacob Dalton and six time NCAA champion, Long Island native Stephen Legendre, with three time World Championship silver medalist Jana Bieger and NCAA Champion Kat Ding among those representing the women. The world team will be led by 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Sam Oldham of Great Britain, 2012 Olympic silver medalist Marcel Nguyen of Germany, six time Olympian and gold medalist Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan, Brazil 2016 hopefuls Petrix and Jade Barbosa and Daniele and Diego Hypolito, and two time Olympian Anna Pavlova of Russia among others.
Two other local men with dreams of going to Rio in 2016, national champions Jesse Silverstein and Paul Ruggieri (both from Rockland Country and training in Mahwah), along with former Olympian and New Jersey native Dave Durante, will be involved in the event as well.
The goal of the Pro Gymnastics Challenge is to showcase professional gymnasts as the athletes they are in a competition similar to HORSE in basketball, for money and prestige. A similar trial event two years ago drew a full house to Stabler Arena from as far away as Long Island and Philadelphia, and the Pocono, Pa., based promoters are hoping a similar reaction will springbroad the event to the national stage, especially in the timeframe between Olympics. Liukin and the presence of some other major stars to build buzz around the event certainly won’t hurt either.