The first time ever, two U.S. women won gold and silver medals in the all-around individual gymnastics competition. For Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson – friends, competitors, teammates – it’s been a long journey but their dream came true.

Valeri Liukin, Nastia’s dad and coach, competed for the Soviet Union in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Nastia faced her dad’s gold medal every day when she woke up, giving her extra motivation: “Just to be able to see it, having it there in my room and knowing that in a few months I could have one of my own.”

Liukin entered these Olympics in the shadow of her roommate in the Athletes’ Village. Johnson, the current U.S.champion, got most of the attention and was favored to win the all-around. The pair anchored the U.S. team that took silver behind China’s gold on Wednesday.

Liukin said she was not disappointed. But she and Johnson wanted more. They made a calendar to hang over their beds in the village, counting the days until they got their next chance for gold. They wanted to go all out and have fun. And the two pals managed to do both.

“I couldn’t be any prouder of Nastia,” Johnson said. “She deserved that gold medal. She’s one of my best friends and we just want the best for each other.”

The silver seemed to whet Johnson’s appetite. She wants to try again at the Olympics in London. “I probably would have told you a month ago that I was done but, after being here and experiencing the Olympics, I’d give anything to feel that again. If I can in 2012, I’ll be there.”

And their advice to other aspiring athletes? Follow your heart, love what you do, work hard and have fun. An excellent exercise for all of us – so stretch into that.

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