GRAPEVINE, Texas – Amid deafening screams, several hundred people welcomed Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin back home to Texas on Thursday.
The flag-waving crowd at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport included gymnasts she trains with, pint-sized fans and fellow gold medalist and friend Carly Patterson, who trained at the same gym.
"I was not expecting anything like this. I thought it was going to be a few girls from the gym and coaches," said Liukin, who was wearing a dark blue T-shirt with Chinese letters, a pair of jeans and white sneakers.
The 18-year-old champion from Parker said she plans to spend time with friends and family and her grandparents, who came in from Russia, before she goes on tour Sept. 1.
She also wasn't ruling out another trip to the Olympics: "2012 isn't out of the question right now, but I'm taking it one day at a time," Liukin said.
When asked about the tiebreaker controversy, Liukin said that all she could do was focus on the competition.
China's He Kexin won a tiebreaker over Liukin for the uneven bars. Both scored 16.725, but He got the gold because her execution marks were closer to a perfect 10 than Liukin's.
"The rules are the rules and you have to play by the rules," Liukin said.
Liukin had a similar response when asked to comment on speculation that some of the Chinese girls were underage, saying "We can only control our performances."
Her father and coach, Valeri Liukin, himself a 1988 double gold medalist for the Soviet Union, said of the age controversy, "We played fair at this Olympic games. ... If somebody cheated, shame on them."
Online records and newspaper accounts suggest three Chinese gymnasts, including He, may be underage, but Chinese passport records show they meet the age rules.
Among Nastia Liukin's numerous exuberant fans at the airport was a teenage boy who held a sign asking if she would marry him. During the news conference someone shouted, "Do you have a boyfriend?" She answered "no" with a smile.
Patterson, who said she remembered watching Liukin train as she grew up, said she was in contact with her friend during the Olympics.
"I was so proud of her because she nailed all of her routines when it counted," Patterson said.
Nine-year-old Lily Pieper of Fort Worth had her mother bring her to the homecoming celebration.
"She was just always so good and she was from Texas. I thought that was pretty cool," said Pieper, who also does gymnastics.
The celebrations for Liukin will continue in Texas. The mayor of Parker said a parade for Liukin is set for Aug. 30 in her hometown. The parade had originally been set for this Saturday, but was postponed after heavy rains swept through the area.