Karolyi’s soft retirement means little change for Team USA

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USA Gymnastics announced changes to the program’s coaching staff in preparation for the eventual departure of National Team Coordinator Martha Karolyi. But don’t panic! Karolyi isn’t running off to retirement yet, she’s just doing what Martha does… getting everything she wants.

Karolyi made it clear she has another four years in her, but she’s clearing her plate and handing over responsibility of the junior program to Valeri Liukin (aka: Nastia’s dad). It’s a non-shocker since Karolyi’s answers regarding who will take the reins is usually Liukin for reasons related to his technical prep of athletes that makes his now famous gym, WOGA, a hot bed of talent for up and coming juniors who turn into dominating seniors (See: Patterson, Bross, Liukin).

USA Gymnastics confirmed Liukin’s role as Elite Athlete Development Coordinator effective January 2013. There’s no official word yet on what will happen with his personal coaching duties. Karolyi had long been retired as a personal coach when she assumed her role overseeing the national team, but Liukin is still deeply immersed in coaching his current roster of athletes, which includes U.S. junior champ Katelyn Ohashi (among other much hyped juniors) and still potentially includes 2010 National Champion Rebecca Bross.

Liukin taking a role with the national team while still participating as a full time coach to athletes who might be on said team seems like a pretty straightforward conflict of interest. However, Liukin will only oversee junior development. Steve Rybacki, a long time Martha sidekick, will serve as Director of Elite Athlete Programs, which includes helping select teams for international competition, but final word on team selection and line up remains with Karolyi.

Liukin will be the guy overseeing the talent pipeline. In some aspects over seeing juniors could able him to continue with Bross and Ohashi. After all, he’s a coach who loves having a gymnast in the spotlight and one could assume this role was given to him to allow him to coach Ohashi through the 2016 Rio Games.

But for the near future it doesn’t appear fans will feel much impact from these changes. Nothing will really change until Martha fully relinquishes her role. Which clearly… could take a while.

What to watch at Drake Relays, Penn Relays

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Olympic gold medalists ramp up their track and field seasons at the Penn Relays and Drake Relays, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold this weekend.

Athletes are working toward the U.S. Championships in June and the world championships in August.

First, the historic Penn Relays will air on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Friday (5:30-6:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday (12:30-3 p.m. ET).

USA vs. The World in men’s and women’s 4x100m, 4x400m and sprint medley relays will air live on Saturday from Franklin Field in Philadelphia. A full schedule is here.

The U.S. teams are led by Olympic relay champions English Gardner and Natasha Hastings. The full roster is here.

Rio Olympic rematches highlight the individual-event fields at the Drake Relays in Des Moines on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold from 3-5 p.m ET on Saturday. A full schedule is here.

Perhaps no field is deeper than the 100m hurdles. World-record holder Keni Harrison takes on Rio silver and bronze medalists Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali, plus 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson.

The 110m hurdles contingent is strong as well. It features the last two Olympic champions, Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt, plus 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Grenada’s Kirani James and American LaShawn Merritt, who earned silver and bronze in Rio, go head-to-head again in the 400m at Drake.

The men’s 1500m is headlined by Rio Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy and London Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano.

Rio bronze medalist Jenny Simpson races individually for the first time this year in the women’s 1500m.

That field also includes New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who gained fame of her own in Rio. Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino fell in an Olympic 5000m heat and helped each other make it to the finish line. Both were praised for their sportsmanship.

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IOC president unsure whether esports should be considered sport

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Esports are gaining momentum in the international sports movement, but they are not close to becoming an Olympic sport.

“We are not yet 100 percent clear whether esports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport,” IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday, according to insidethegames. “We do not see an organization or a structure that will give us confidence, or guarantee, that in this area the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place, and that the implementation of these rules are monitored and secured.”

The first clear step (of many) to become an Olympic sport is for the IOC to recognize the sport’s international governing body.

Esports will be added as a medal sport to the Asian Games in 2022, and has been praised by LA 2024 Olympic bid chairman Casey Wasserman, but it is not yet IOC recognized.

“We are watching it, we see the differences, we see the lack of organisation,” Bach said, according to the report. “But we also see the high engagement of youth in esports. Therefore, we have to carefully consider how this could be consolidated.”

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