Shawn Johnson East titled it “Eight years of drama.”
East and Nastia Liukin, the two U.S. gymnastics stars of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said they went nearly eight years without talking after the Games but have rekindled their best friendship in the last two years.
“Right after the Olympics, we kind of had like a falling out, but it wasn’t like anything between us,” East said in a YouTube sitdown from Liukin’s Grander Summit in Boston last week.
“There wasn’t, like, an incident. Like, ever,” Liukin said.
Liukin and East, who went one-two in the 2008 Olympic all-around, were roommates in Beijing. Though they were the two women vying for the sport’s biggest prize, they called each other best friends.
What drove them apart after the Olympics was the narrative that they were supposed to be rivals.
“You couldn’t like both. It was like ‘Twilight,'” Liukin said of the popular late 2000s novel series that she read while in China. “As a 16- and 18-year-old girl … we were so used to any time somebody told us something, we believed it. We thought like that was right. Or that’s what was supposed to happen. Or that’s how we were supposed to act.
“Right after the Olympics, the entire world like plotted us against one another,” East said. “As soon as all-around hit, it was like Nastia or Shawn. … We kind of felt like, well, they don’t want us to be friends. They won’t allow us to be friends.”
Liukin said they didn’t follow each other on social media — yet stalked each other from that distance. Neither had each other’s up-to-date phone number.
“The more and more time that went on, I think we realized we wanted to fix it, but we almost like didn’t know how because it just had been so long,” Liukin said. “Shawn was the bigger person.”
East’s epiphany came while sitting in an airport in Dallas, near Liukin’s hometown. She typed a long email, as reported by OlympicChannel.com, she later described as “a love letter.”
“If you don’t respond, I totally get it,” East said. “Just know that I love you. I miss my best friend. I support you in everything you do.”
Liukin saw it at Gemma, a Bowery Hotel restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, while on a bathroom break from a New York Times interview. East said she received a response from Liukin 30 seconds after sending.
Liukin recalls it well. That’s partly because it came right after The New York Times reporter asked whether Liukin would be attending her Olympic teammate’s April 2016 wedding to NFL long snapper Andrew East. Liukin had not received an invitation.
“That’s when it really hit me because I was like, oh my gosh, this girl that I had been best friends with for so many years and this moment that’s about to happen in her life that is the biggest moment of her life, and I’m not going to be there,” Liukin said. “When [the reporter] said that, I was like, I have to fix this.”
Liukin took the bathroom break, received the email and cried. They met in New York a few weeks later. Liukin did attend the Nashville wedding.
“Sports is just such a small part of your life, yet a big part of your life,” Liukin said. “It brought us together. It drove us apart. It brought us back together.”
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