Q&A with Valeri Liukin

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As many of you know by now, Valeri Liukin has replaced Martha Karolyi as the new Women’s National Team Coordinator.

But some of you may be wondering what qualifies Valeri to lead our Women’s National Team?

Well…

Valeri was a member of the Soviet National Team and attended the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.  At these games he won 2 gold and 2 silver medals.

Nastia Liukin - 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist in the All-Around Photo: stlsports.org
Nastia Liukin – 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist in the All-Around
Photo: stlsports.org

He is the co-founder and owner of WOGA (World Olympic Gymnastics Academy) in Plano, Texas.  But he is most well known for being the coach & father of the 2008 Olympic All-Around Champion, Nastia Liukin.  Valeri also coached notable gymnasts like Rebecca Bross and  Katelyn Ohashi.

Leading up to his appointment as the Women’s National Team Coordinator, Valeri was in the role of Women’s Athlete Development Coordinator.  In this role, he oversaw the curriculum for the Developmental Program and directed all developmental camps, as well as overseeing the Talent Opportunity Program (TOPs).

According to USA Gymnastics, “As the U.S. Women’s National Team coordinator, Liukin will develop the strategic plan and training program for all members of the U.S. Women’s National Team, including conducting national team training camps; attending national and international competitions as needed; overseeing international competition assignments for athletes, coaches and judges; coordinating scheduling and activities for the developmental program and the Talent Opportunity Program (TOPs); and working with the national coaching staff.”

The following are excerpts of a transcript from a media conference call hosted by USA Gymnastics announcing Valeri as the new U.S. Women’s National Team Coordinator and a Q&A with Rhonda Faehn and Valeri Liukin:

(USA Gymnastics, Rhonda Faehn and Valeri Liukin transcript, Sept. 16, 2016)

Rhonda Faehn: Good morning everyone. I would like to share that we are beyond excited to announce our new U.S. Women’s National Team coordinator is Valeri Liukin. He will also continue to serve as the developmental coordinator. He will be doing both roles, and we are very much looking forward to it.

The U.S. Women's Olympic Training Center at the Karolyi Ranch. Photo: usagym.org
The U.S. Women’s Olympic Training Center at the Karolyi Ranch.
Photo: usagym.org

Do you envision any changes in the way the national training camps are handled?

Valeri Liukin: First thing, I want to thank everyone and I just want to tell you how honored I am to accept this position. It is an incredible honor and I can’t wait to write the next chapter in the book of success for USA Gymnastics. No, I don’t think we should change many things at all. This system has proved that it is working. I was brought up in this system, I brought all my athletes through this system. I’m absolutely happy with the outcome, and I don’t see the need [for changes]. I’m sure there will be little tweaks here and there since all the gymnasts are different, but I don’t see the need to change anything.

Can you tell us a little bit about the developmental program and maybe give us some idea how things look for the next Olympic cycle?

Valeri Liukin: The last four years, I’ve been working as the developmental coordinator, which was an amazing job. I loved every day of it, and I feel like we’ve made great progress. We’ve been working very close with the coaches and gymnasts, and at the last national championships, some of our little babies were at the top of the board. That gives me great confidence that we are on the right path [for the future].

Was there any hesitation on your part about taking this job?

Valeri Liukin: Absolutely not. I was waiting for this call for four years! We all knew Martha was going to retire [four years ago]. I was super excited back then, and I’m just as excited and happy today to accept this position. Those are big shoes to fill, but I have done this for a few years as a coach, and I’m not afraid of that.

Have any steps been taken regarding a conflict of interest with your role as national team coordinator?

Rhonda Faehn: There absolutely have been steps taken so there will not be a conflict of interest. We have worked with Steve Penny and Valeri on those items and also with the USOC and the board of directors. We have a system in place so there will not be a conflict of interest. If there is a conflict of interest presents itself [ phone breaks up]

Rhonda Faehn: The decision was made that in Valeri’s position of National Team Coordinator, he is on the selection committee and has a vote. In the event of a conflict of interest, he will have what is called a voice with no vote, and the USOC in conjunction with the USA Gymnastics board of directors will determine the person who will replace Valeri for the vote.

2016 U.S. Women's Olympic Gymnastics Team Photo: nbcolympics.com
2016 U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team
Photo: nbcolympics.com

Do you think there is a role for returning Olympians on a very competitive a four-person 2020 team?

Valeri Liukin: For the Olympians who want to return, it’s very difficult to say. I assume the Olympians will take somewhere around six months to a year off. I do think that Laurie Hernandez will come back, she’s very young, and she just started her senior elite career. She was a senior elite for one year. Hopefully, Simone will be back within a year, or so. We are hoping to see them back at camp this year. [regarding Aly Rasiman] I can’t tell for sure, but we definitely hope they all come back because they did an incredible job. I know that it is not easy to stay on that elite path.

Obviously expectations have never been higher in this program coming off the success that they’ve had. Gymnasts credit that to Martha’s exacting eye and the difficulty of performing in front of her compared to performing at competitions. How do you maintain those expectations? What will be different in terms of personality/style standpoint?

Valeri Liukin: I don’t think I’m very far off from Martha, to be honest. We have similar coaching styles, and we’re very particular with things. I’m very detail-oriented, and I believe this is necessary in order to raise high-level athletes and Olympians. You do have to be exactly like that [detail oriented], as Martha is. It’s going to be a lot of new kids coming up on the national team, and I assume at least fifty percent of those kids are ones I’ve been working with, and I’m comfortable with [them]. I brought them up through the system the same way and same with the coaches. I’m absolutely comfortable with all of that. And you know with the national team, I’ve been at the national training center since 1999, so it’s been close to seventeen years.

Why was Valeri the right person for the job?

Valeri Liukin Photo: pinterest.com
Valeri Liukin
Photo: pinterest.com

Rhonda Faehn: I feel that one of Valeri’s greatest assets is his work ethic and his passion. Valeri shows tremendous knowledge, and he was an amazing gymnast himself. He was an amazing coach obviously. His daughter was an Olympic all-around champion. Just the success with all the World and Olympic medals from his gym’s system. He has been part of USA Gymnastics’ system for a very long time. When I saw the passion, dedication, and discipline that he showed with his desire. Four years ago when Martha first said she would possibly retire, he was ready to fill this role. What he did do was put all of that that passion into the developmental program. I really saw the results, especially this year at our Hopes Championships. Our junior international elites came through his developmental system. What I really like is that he has a firm belief in educating the coaches, the younger coaches, making them feel like if they don’t have the knowledge, then he’s going to help them with that instead of making them feel like less of a coach. It really helps them join the system, and that’s exactly what we need with the young coaches.

Where do you see the program during this transitional phase and where you see going over the next quad?

Valeri Liukin: USA Gymnastics has a big pool of juniors coming up with lots of talent right now. We actually expect to get even farther with our results. At least I do [laughs]. That’s what we are hoping for.

What can you do to make sure people have trust in the people who are at the top of USA Gymnastics right now?

Valeri Liukin: I’m not in my first year at the elite level and coaches have seen me and known me for many years. This is actually difficult to talk about myself, but I will say a few words. I hope they see my passion and respect for them, and the trust I hope I have from the people I work with. Most of these guys are going to be part of the national team at this point, so it’s pretty simple for me to see how they’ll trust me.

Valeri and Nastia at the 2008 Olympic Games. Photo: nbcdfw.com
Valeri and Nastia at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Photo: nbcdfw.com

What do you do to make people feel good about the situation USA Gymnastic is in and the role that you play at a moment where people may or may not be lacking trust.

Valeri Liukin: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. All we can do is provide good training at the camp, as has been done. I don’t think there’s much else I can provide other than a safe environment, and I can assure everybody that number one, I am a father of a gymnast, and everybody knows that, and I hope that’s going to help people trust me.

Leslie King: We’re all aware of making sure that we promote a safe environment for all of our athletes for the national team training center and other locations. It is definitely a top priority.

How will a four-person team in 2020 affect your [coaching] strategy? How will that affect the way you go about looking at the athletes coming up in the next four years. What are you looking for?

Valeri Liukin: I will definitely be looking over all top developmental program kids for the future, and that’s going to help us develop an even stronger elite program in the country. Other than that, the plans are not to fix anything that’s not broken basically. The system has proven itself and its working, we’re winning a lot of medals as a country, and that’s what we hope to continue to do. With the four-person team, I’m confident. We’re working hard, and the team has the most difficulty and the greatest quality of gymnastics in the world at this point. I think no matter what happens, I feel like nothing can change it. If we do our homework daily, as we do, I don’t think anything’s gonna change. We should be just as strong.

Have you made sure Martha is absolutely retiring this time?

Valeri Liukin: It looks like it’s too late now! But that’s a good question. I’m not giving it back!

Where do you see the code going in the next four years with the trend going toward big difficulty?

Valeri Liukin: Difficulty is in right now, so to say. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. If you remember the last Olympics, look at how beautiful the Netherlands performed. They all made finals, and they had the Olympic champion on beam. There are other ways to have difficulty. You can put a lot of difficulty in dance. I don’t see very many changes in our style, just little tweaks, and we’ll get the updates soon. But I don’t see big changes.

Sept. 2016 National Team Training Camp Photo: usagym.org
Sept. 2016 National Team Training Camp
Photo: usagym.org

Do you anticipate any changes to the format of the training camps for the staff?

Rhonda Faehn: The system has worked tremendously well, and we will have the same number of national team camps with the same number of days. It will be run with the same schedule, with the four events, dance, and the verification system. Regarding staffing, our vault national staff coach retired. We are sad to see him go as he has been a tremendous asset for USA Gymnastics. I understand his retirement, so we will be having a new staff member coming in on that event. We don’t want to discuss that right now; we are just talking about Valeri’s appointment today. We want to keep it with very little change because every staff member we’ve had from the developmental system up through the national team has been a part of the system for quite a long time and they know how it works.

Leslie King: Before we wrap up I would like to share a clarification on the conflict of interest question just to make sure everything is clear. Valeri is not coaching elite athletes. As you know, he is now the national team coordinator. If there is a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest in the selection process, then the NTC will become a voice with no vote on the selection committee for team selection. This is approved by the USOC Board of Directors and the USOC.

Valeri Liukin: Thanks everybody for calling in this morning and I’m happy to move forward from here.

Source: USA Gymnastics

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3 thoughts on “Q&A with Valeri Liukin

    • Vinnie Silber says:

      I heard through a source that National Training Camp attendees already see a difference in the atmosphere of the camps, for the positive!

  1. Wendy says:

    I’m a huge women’s gymnastics fan. Nadia and Olga not only had the technical moves but they had the most BEAUTIFUL GRACE executing those technical moves. Nastia has that grace and she stands out above all. Gymnastics now are only about the biggest technical moves. Why? Why isn’t it mandatory that today’s gymnasts learn ballet as part of their training? It’s called ARTISTIC gymnastics for goodness sakes. Where’s that beautiful artistry like Nadia and Olga? I could watch those two and Nastia for hours. Today’s gymnasts are hard to watch for hours. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE put ballet back into gymnastics. It’s much more beautiful to watch. Sincerely, Wendy

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