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Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson on why they didn’t talk for 8 years

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Shawn Johnson East titled it “Eight years of drama.”

East and Nastia Liukin, the two U.S. gymnastics stars of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said they went nearly eight years without talking after the Games but have rekindled their best friendship in the last two years.

“Right after the Olympics, we kind of had like a falling out, but it wasn’t like anything between us,” East said in a YouTube sitdown from Liukin’s Grander Summit in Boston last week.

“There wasn’t, like, an incident. Like, ever,” Liukin said.

Liukin and East, who went one-two in the 2008 Olympic all-around, were roommates in Beijing. Though they were the two women vying for the sport’s biggest prize, they called each other best friends.

What drove them apart after the Olympics was the narrative that they were supposed to be rivals.

“You couldn’t like both. It was like ‘Twilight,'” Liukin said of the popular late 2000s novel series that she read while in China. “As a 16- and 18-year-old girl … we were so used to any time somebody told us something, we believed it. We thought like that was right. Or that’s what was supposed to happen. Or that’s how we were supposed to act.

“Right after the Olympics, the entire world like plotted us against one another,” East said. “As soon as all-around hit, it was like Nastia or Shawn. … We kind of felt like, well, they don’t want us to be friends. They won’t allow us to be friends.”

Liukin said they didn’t follow each other on social media — yet stalked each other from that distance. Neither had each other’s up-to-date phone number.

“The more and more time that went on, I think we realized we wanted to fix it, but we almost like didn’t know how because it just had been so long,” Liukin said. “Shawn was the bigger person.”

East’s epiphany came while sitting in an airport in Dallas, near Liukin’s hometown. She typed a long email, as reported by OlympicChannel.com, she later described as “a love letter.”

“If you don’t respond, I totally get it,” East said. “Just know that I love you. I miss my best friend. I support you in everything you do.”

Liukin saw it at Gemma, a Bowery Hotel restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, while on a bathroom break from a New York Times interview. East said she received a response from Liukin 30 seconds after sending.

Liukin recalls it well. That’s partly because it came right after The New York Times reporter asked whether Liukin would be attending her Olympic teammate’s April 2016 wedding to NFL long snapper Andrew East. Liukin had not received an invitation.

“That’s when it really hit me because I was like, oh my gosh, this girl that I had been best friends with for so many years and this moment that’s about to happen in her life that is the biggest moment of her life, and I’m not going to be there,” Liukin said. “When [the reporter] said that, I was like, I have to fix this.”

Liukin took the bathroom break, received the email and cried. They met in New York a few weeks later. Liukin did attend the Nashville wedding.

“Sports is just such a small part of your life, yet a big part of your life,” Liukin said. “It brought us together. It drove us apart. It brought us back together.”

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Transgender track and field athletes now face same standard that has kept out Caster Semenya

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Transgender athletes will have to reduce their testosterone level to the same level applied to Caster Semenya and other athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD), under a new policy enacted by World Athletics (formerly the IAAF).

As with DSD athletes, the threshold for middle-distance runners has been lowered from 10 nanomoles per liter to 5.

“These Regulations have been drafted to align with the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development) and include updates to reflect current medical standards and the legal framework,” World Athletics said in announcing the latest IAAF Council decisions.

The IAAF claimed a similar basis in medical standards last year when it announced its updated policy on DSD athletes: “No female would have serum levels of natural testosterone at 5 nmol/L or above unless they have DSD or a tumour.”

Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters, challenged that limit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport but lost her case in May. Given a brief reprieve by a Swiss court, she ran the fastest 800-meter time of the year (1:54.98), but a higher court overruled her appeal. She did not compete in the recent world championships.

MORE: Semenya laments lack of support

Another athlete affected by the DSD policy, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui, told the Olympic Channel she was struggling to find a new direction after the rule was passed.

“It affected me a lot,” Wambui said. “I didn’t want to train or do anything. …

“Caster has fought for us. She has done her level best. She has tried, but we failed.”

VIDEO: Wambui: “No one chose to be born the way they are”

Transgender athletes have not yet been prominent in international track and field, though controversies have arisen at other levels, particularly in a Connecticut case in which high school athletes filed a Title IX complaint after losing to transgender athletes. The athletes who filed the claim said they were potentially at a disadvantage in terms of earning college scholarships.

The new World Athletics policy insists that its stipulations for transgender athletes are actually generous. “The decision limit also takes into consideration that, for clinical purposes, the Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline for Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons recommends that transgender females should have serum testosterone levels of less than 50 ng/dL (i.e. approximately 1.7 nmol/L).”

But while DSD and transgender athletes face different issues, Semenya and other DSD athletes have set a precedent by withdrawing from competition rather than bring their levels down to the 5 nmol/L standard. In CAS proceedings, Semenya said she experienced regular fevers, night sweats, significant weight gain and constant abdominal pain while taking medication to meet the previous standard of 10 nmol/L.

The International Olympic Committee also put a 10 nmol/L limit in place for both transgender and DSD athletes in 2015. Some athletes have complained that transgender athletes still have an unfair advantage under that policy.

The World Athletics policy also addresses transgender men, granting them permission to take regulated testosterone supplements to bring levels within a typical range for men.

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U.S. men’s volleyball extends medal streak with bronze in World Cup

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With its medal-winning streak in jeopardy, the defending champion U.S. men’s volleyball team beat Egypt 22-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13 on Tuesday in Hiroshima, Japan. Poland beat Iran later in the day to slip past the U.S. for silver behind unbeaten Brazil.

The experienced U.S. men have claimed a medal in the last four major international tournaments — gold in the 2015 World Cup, bronze in the 2016 Olympics, bronze in the 2018 world championships and bronze in this year’s World Cup. The men also placed second in the 2019 Nations League and third in the first Nations League in 2018, though the team failed to medal in the last two editions of the World League in 2016 and 2017.

Most importantly for next year, the U.S. men swept their Olympic qualification tournament in August.

Micah Christenson was named best setter of the tournament, as he was in the 2015 tournament and in the 2018 world championships. Middle blocker Max Holt was also named to the tournament “Dream Team.

VIDEO: U.S.-Egypt highlights

The U.S. team’s World Cup started with a five-set loss to Argentina, which went on to finish fifth. The U.S. rebounded to beat Italy, world champion Poland, host Japan, Tunisia and Iran before losing to eventual champion Brazil. Border rival Canada took the U.S. to five sets, but sweeps against Australia and Brazil put the team in position to clinch its medal.

Heading into next year’s Olympics, the U.S. team has several internationally accomplished players. In addition to Christenson’s multiple awards, Matt Anderson was named the best opposite hitter in the world championship and Nations League in 2018, and Aaron Russell was named to the Dream Team in the 2016 Olympics. Russell, playing for Italian team Trentino, also was named MVP of the World Club Championship in December.

The U.S. women’s team also won two medals this year gold in the Nations League, silver in the World Cup and swept its own qualification tournament.

This success comes despite the lack of a professional league in the United States. USA volleyball announced last week it has processed paperwork for 257 women and 82 men to play in foreign leagues for the 2019-20, with more players to follow.

The World Cup is contested every four years, the year before the Olympics. The world championship takes place in even non-Olympic years. Qualification for the World Cup is more difficult — only 12 teams reach the tournament, while 24 teams take part in the world championship. 

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