On the evening of March 3, 2017, North Stars gymnasts, Rachael Lukacs and Nicola (Nikki) St. Louis joined 34 other top-tier Junior Olympic Level 10 gymnasts on a podium to compete at the 2017 Nastia Liukin Cup. Gymnasts qualified to compete in the Cup through a series of invitational meets held over the course of the season, known as the Nastia Liukin Cup Series. This year marked Lukacs’ fourth consecutive time competing in the Cup, while for St. Louis, it was a first-time experience. For any J.O. gymnast, it is a hard-earned privilege and honor to compete in the meet.
After Nastia Liukin was named 2008 All-Around Olympic Gold Medalist, she entered a partnership with USA Gymnastics and established the Nastia Liukin Cup. The first official Nastia Liukin Cup was held in 2010 at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. Over the past eight years, the Cup has been held in multiple locations including Newark, N.J.; Arlington, Texas; Greensboro, N.C.; Worcester, Mass.; New York, N.Y.; and Jacksonville, Fla. In both 2016 and 2017, the Cup was held at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., a close commute from the North Stars Gymnastics training facility.
The Nastia Liukin Cup is a prestigious meet that provides a competitive opportunity for top J.O. gymnasts to go head-to-head. Every year, gymnasts qualify to compete in the Cup based on their performance and placement at one of the Nastia Liukin Cup Series invitational meets. Proceeds from both the Series and the Nastia Liukin Cup go toward the Nastia Liukin Fund, a charity established in 2009. The fund aims to support athletes in need of financial assistance to remain or become involved in gymnastics.
Athletes competing at the Cup are divided into two age groups; junior and senior. The junior age group is made up of gymnasts under 16 years old, while the senior age group is made up of gymnasts aged 16 and older. The vast age groups at the Cup differentiate from most meets that only allow gymnasts to verse competitors of the same age.
This year, the Cup consisted of 18 junior and 18 senior Level 10 gymnasts. Lukacs competed as a senior and St. Louis competed as a junior.
Lukacs qualified to compete in the Cup through the Greensboro Invitational, held in Greensboro, N.C in February. Having won the senior all-around in 2016, Lukacs entered the meet this year under pressure. Injuring her back two weeks prior to the Cup and losing a full week of preparation time only added to the pressure. “Rachael showed a large amount of courage and experience,” said Head Coach at North Stars, Tony Gehman.
Last year, Lukacs executed a nearly perfect double-twisting Yurchenko vault and nailed the landing, scoring a 9.900. This year, she performed the same skill and scored a 9.825. Lukacs placed second all-around with a total score of 38.525, .05 higher than her all-around score in 2016. “It was a very close meet,” said Gehman.
St. Louis qualified to compete in the Cup through the Excalibur Classic, held in Virginia Beach, VA, two weeks prior to the Cup. She entered the Cup feeling excited for both a new experience and to compete alongside her teammate. Prior to the meet, St. Louis explained that she was most excited about “competing on a podium.” Her strongest event at the Cup was the balance beam, on which she performed a solid routine and scored a 9.425. “Nikki did a tremendous job for it being her first time in the meet,” said Gehman. “She gained the experience she needed to come back next year,” he added.
Placing third in 2015, first in 2016 and second in 2017, Lukacs now holds the top all-around placements above any other gymnast in Nastia Liukin Cup history.