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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Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

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Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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