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Valeri Liukin named USA Gymnastics women’s national team coordinator

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Valeri Liukin, the four-time 1988 Soviet Olympic medalist and father of Nastia Liukin, has been named USA Gymnastics women’s national team coordinator, succeeding Martha Karolyi.

“I don’t know if I can say it’s a dream come true, but it feels like one,” Valeri Liukin said, according to USA Gymnastics. “I don’t know how to describe it.”

Valeri Liukin, 49, has been USA Gymnastics’ elite developmental coordinator since 2013 and was most seen at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, guiding his daughter to the Olympic all-around title.

“I’ve never been more proud to be his daughter,” Nastia Liukin said, according to USA Gymnastics. “He’s always been my father, but he’s also been a role model and inspiration for me, so to see him achieve something that he has wanted to do for so long, to see him lead the U.S. team, that makes me very proud of him.”

Valeri Liukin will report to Rhonda Faehn, the senior vice president of the women’s program for USA Gymnastics who was also seen as a candidate to succeed Karolyi, who had been in the role from 2001-16. Bela Karolyi was the first women’s national team coordinator in 1999 and 2000.

“Valeri has excelled as a personal coach, and he has demonstrated his ability to lead and guide other coaches through his efforts as the elite developmental coordinator,” USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said in a press release.  “He will provide a smooth transition from the program that has been created, and Valeri is recognized as a capable and talented coach.”

The Liukins moved from Russia to the U.S. in 1992, three years after Nastia was born. Valeri Liukin co-founded the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Plano, Texas, in 1994.

The gym helped produce the 2004 and 2008 Olympic all-around champions (Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin), a 2009 and 2010 World all-around medalist (Rebecca Bross) and 2016 Olympic team champion member Madison Kocian.

Similarly, Liukin takes over a program with a rich recent history — five straight Olympic or world team titles starting in 2011.

“We are at the highest level there is,” Valeri Liukin said, according to USA Gymnastics. “It’s not going to be easy – it shouldn’t be – but I have been a part of this team for many years in one way or another. I have been at The Ranch since 1999 and have coached several generations of national team members. I know the drill. I grew up in that system as a gymnast, and I’ve raised my athletes in that same system, too.”

The first national-team camp at the Karolyi Ranch in New Waverly, Texas, under Valeri Liukin will start Sept. 28, and he plans to have regular conversations with the Karolyis, according to USA Gymnastics.

“There is no point in changing something that isn’t broken,” Valeri Liukin said. “There is nothing new for me. I believe in it.”

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Nathan Chen hits short program, leads world championships

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That’s more like it, Nathan Chen.

After two disastrous Olympic short programs, Chen nailed his jumps at the world championships, taking the lead by 1.86 points over Russian Mikhail Kolyada in Milan on Thursday. American Vincent Zhou is third.

Full results are here.

“I learned a lot from the Olympics, and I used what I learned there heading into the short program in terms of where to place my mind, what to think about throughout the program,” Chen said. “It was great to have an opportunity to come back before the end of the season to try the short program again, sort of hope to redeem myself.”

Later Thursday, Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic gold with a world title, shattering the longest-standing world record in figure skating with a record margin of victory. Full recap here.

In Saturday’s men’s free skate, Chen can become the youngest men’s world champion since Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001. Zhou can become the first man to make a senior world podium the year after winning a world junior title since Plushenko in 1998. The U.S. last put two men on a world podium in 1996 (Todd EldredgeRudy Galindo).

This week’s field lacks Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, who combined to win every Olympic and world title since 2011 but ended their seasons at the Olympics.

On Thursday, Chen hit a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a quadruple flip and a triple Axel for 101.94 points (2.18 shy of his personal best). It was a reversal from PyeongChang, where Chen’s short programs began unraveling with that opening combination, and he scored 80.61 and 82.27 points.

Chen placed 17th in the Olympic short program and redeemed himself with the top free skate, moving up to fifth. He went into the Olympics as the only undefeated male skater for the season.

“That I was able to bounce back and have the long program that I did, because of that the whole Olympic experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be after the short program,” Chen said Thursday. “Being able to have that, I didn’t have any ghosts of the Olympics following me [to worlds].”

Zhou, the youngest of 37 men in the field at 17, landed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip, fist pumping at the end of his skate. He shattered his personal-best short program by 12.25 points. Zhou was sixth at the Olympics.

“I came here to skate a clean program, I did that, and being in the top three is icing on the cake,” Zhou said.

Two other medal favorites — Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China — struggled with jumps. Jin is fourth and Uno fifth.

Uno, competing with a reported ankle injury, performed a triple-double combination rather than the quad-triple he did in PyeongChang. Jin had a quad toe called under-rotated.

The third American, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, is in 15th place. Aaron put his hand down on his opening quad Salchow and turned out of his triple Axel landing.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Saturday ET)
Max Aaron (USA) — 6:05 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 8:21 a.m.
Jin Boyang (CHN) — 8:29 a.m.
Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Vincent Zhou (USA) — 8:47 a.m.
Nathan Chen (USA) — 8:55 a.m.

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Olympic pairs’ champs crush world record for world title; U.S. struggles

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot added a world title to their Olympic gold with a world-record score, while U.S. pairs’ struggles continued with the Americans’ lowest-ever results at a world championships.

Savchenko and Massot broke the longest-standing record total in figure skating, extending their lead from Wednesday’s short program to win by 20.31 points over Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres took bronze, France’s second Olympic or world pairs medal in 86 years.

Full results are here.

Savchenko and Massot’s free skate — the first to eclipse 160 points under the current judging system — included a side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe loop-double toe loop combination and a throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow.

Their total score — 245.84 points — shattered 2014 Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov‘s record of 237.71 set at 2013 Skate America. Their winning margin also broke Volosozhar and Trankov’s record for an Olympics or world championships under the 14-year-old points system.

Savchenko earned her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs’ list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

This was the French-born Massot’s first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

The two U.S. pairs finished 15th and 17th, which means the U.S. drops to one pairs’ spot for the 2019 Worlds, its fewest since 1957.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim dropped from 11th after the short program to 15th of 16 pairs after the free skate. Scimeca fell on their death spiral and a throw triple flip, looked distraught skating off the ice and tweeted 10 minutes later, “I’m sorry for losing us a spot” and “Bad day to have a bad day.”

The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th in Wednesday’s short program, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot.

It’s the first time all U.S. pairs finished outside the top 11 at a worlds, granted worlds didn’t regularly have a field greater than 15 pairs before 1990.

It came on the heels of the U.S. having its smallest pairs’ contingent — one pair — at an Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924. The Knierims were 15th in PyeongChang, marking the first time the U.S. sent a pair to an Olympics and put none in the top 10.

The last U.S. pairs’ medal at worlds came in 2002, making this the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

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