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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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Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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