USA Today

Nastia Liukin hates being bored. That sure won’t be a problem these next few months.

Already a full-time student at NYU, the 2008 Olympic gymnastics champion will be competing with Derek Hough on the upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars.

“Derek and I said, `We both have to be a little bit crazy to do this,'” Liukin told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, after the cast was announced.

Hough had originally planned to sit this season out because he’s performing in the New York Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. The 25-year-old Liukin didn’t think she could do the show because of her school schedule.

But with her and Hough both in New York, they decided they’d find a way to make it work.

Hough’s show at Radio City Music Hall is off Sundays and Mondays, so the two will fly to Los Angeles on Sunday and come home on a red-eye Monday night. Rehearsal time will be carved out of their schedules when they’re in New York.

“It makes it good that both of us are in the same boat, balancing other things,” said Liukin, who had to drop her accounting class because it meets on Mondays. “He’s such a perfectionist in everything he does, as am I, so it kind of works out well. When we’re together and rehearsing, there’s not going to be much time to waste.”

Athletes – Olympians in particular — have done well on DWTS, winning eight of the previous 19 titles. Liukin’s Beijing teammate Shawn Johnson won the Mirror Ball in 2009, while Fierce Fiver Aly Raisman finished fourth in season 16.

Known for her elegance and grace as a gymnast, Liukin would seem to be a shoo-in. But it won’t be that easy, she said.

“I think people assume I’ve taken dance classes or done all this ballet. I’ve never taken a ballet class in my life!” said Liukin, whose mother, Anna, was a world champion in rhythmic gymnastics.

“It definitely helps when you kind of know how to move. But it’s not like I know how to do the salsa or anything.”

Liukin’s love of fashion is well known – she’s a familiar face at New York’s Fashion Week and she used to design her leotards – and she’s excited to see what the costume designers have in mind for her.

But don’t expect to see her wearing those risqué outfits favored by another Hough family member.

“I’m 25, but at the same time I know my following and that little girls look up to me,” Liukin said. “That’s something very important to me, to keep the same image I’ve had all these years.”

Especially since she’s still involved in gymnastics.

Liukin created the Nastia Liukin Cup to showcase up-and-coming gymnasts. (Reigning Olympic champion Gabby Douglas was fourth at the inaugural meet.) Now in its sixth year, it will be held March 6 at AT&T Stadium.

The American Cup, a World Cup event, is the next day.

“To have it be at AT&T Stadium, I know when I walk in, it’s going to be surreal,” said Liukin, who grew up in Dallas. ”

“I wanted this year to be extra special, not just because it’s my hometown but to compete at a stadium,” she said. “You don’t know if they’ll ever get the opportunity to do that again.”

As Liukin knows, when opportunities present themselves, you find a way to take advantage of them.

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