November 06, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Martha Karolyi turned the U.S. women into the world's most dominant gymnastics team, and she's not about to leave until she knows they're in good hands.

Karolyi began handing off some of her responsibilities Monday, the first step in what could be a succession plan. Valeri Liukin, who won two gold medals at the Seoul Games in 1988 and guided his daughter Nastia to the Olympic title 20 years later, will become elite athlete developmental coordinator, responsible for identifying and nurturing future talent. Steve Rybacki, who has worked closely with Karolyi as chairman of the international coaches committee, becomes director of elite athlete programs, in charge of administrative duties for the national team.

Karolyi remains the national team coordinator. The moves take effect in January.

"We believe the partnership of Martha, Valeri and Steve gives USA Gymnastics the dream team to pilot and manage our women's program from development through the elite level and national team," said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. "Each of them has been integral in the success of our women's team and has demonstrated the ability to work hand-in-hand with our personal coaches to keep our women's program on track."

The U.S. women have enjoyed their most successful run since Karolyi took over as national team coordinator in 2001, winning 64 medals at the Olympics and world championships - at least 20 more than any other country. They won their second team title, and first since 1996, at the London Olympics, and Gabby Douglas became the third straight American to win the all-around gold.

The Americans also have won three world team titles under Karolyi, and produced four of the last six world all-around champions. They have not finished worse than first or second at a world championships or an Olympics since 2001, when they won a bronze medal 10 months after Karolyi took over.

Karolyi turned 70 on Aug. 29, and had talked about retiring after London. But she backed off that last year, in part because there was no clear successor. Karolyi oversees the entire U.S. program under the current system, from the elites down to up-and-comers who won't be ready for international competition for several years, and no detail escapes her attention. Gymnasts of all levels train at home with their personal coaches, but come to her ranch outside of Houston for regular training camps to ensure they're meeting established training and performance standards.

Though Karolyi isn't ready to step away - the gold medal in London "just reinforces the idea that I love it" - she knew the Americans needed a plan for when that day comes.

Liukin is one of the country's premier individual coaches. In addition to his daughter, who won five medals in Beijing and nine at the world championships, he coached Rebecca Bross, who won six world medals, and 2011 U.S. junior champion Katelyn Ohashi. In his new role, he'll be in charge of the developmental training camps, which are for gymnasts below the elite level. He'll also oversee the Talent Opportunity Program, which identifies promising gymnasts aged 7 to 10 and brings them into the national team system.

Rybacki's primary responsibility will be overseeing the budget and travel arrangements for international competitions. He'll also write the selection procedures for the Olympics, world championships and Pan-American Games.

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