On Friday, Feb. 2, U.S. women's gymnastics team coordinator Valeri Liukin resigned from USA Gymnastics following the sentencing of former USA Gym doctor Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty to federal child pornography and criminal sexual conduct charges. Valeri Liukin is the father and coach of Nastia Liukin, who won the all-around gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. With herself and her family so much a part of USA Gymnastics, it's worth looking at what Nastia Liukin has said about Nassar.
In the years following her retirement from competition, Liukin has stayed close to the sport. Liukin has been a competition commentator and also started the Nastia Liukin Cup, an annual competition for Junior Olympic gymnasts that is held in partnership with USA Gymnastics. Given this continued involvement with the institution many are calling to be completely overhauled, people have been looking out for what she has to say about the Nassar case.
Throughout 2017, Liukin was criticized for not voicing more support for the gymnasts who alleged they were assaulted by Nassar.
In March 2017, Liukin told NBC the allegations "completely shocked" her. She added, "Every encounter that I had with him was professional. My whole experience on the national team with USA Gymnastics was nothing but positive." Although she said she had never heard about the alleged abuse, Liukin said her "thoughts and prayers go out to all the gymnasts and the parents that are affected and involved in all of this."
When Nassar's sentencing trial made national headlines in January 2018, Liukin wrote a blog post to address the case and her previous comments (or lack thereof) about it. In the post, she again voiced her support to the women speaking out. She also acknowledged the criticism she was getting. Liukin wrote,
This is an apology to anyone who had the perception I was not in complete support of my teammates and the women who have suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar. When I first found out about Larry’s disgusting crimes, I was completely shocked. I couldn’t believe the man I trusted and had even publicly thanked for helping to heal my injuries was a monster to so many people I care so much about. One of the first times I was asked about this was on national television and I was completely caught off guard. I realized I gave the impression I was not fully supportive of my teammates. I stumbled through my words because I couldn’t even begin to process my thoughts, let alone my words, about his abhorrent and criminal actions.
Liukin's words here are important. The nation puts an immense amount of pressure on the very young women who compete in gymnastics, and society at large puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on women to somehow speak eloquently about sexual assault. When a woman speaks about the issue, her words are often torn apart by those who want to discredit allegations and also by those who take issue with any wording deemed to be not-supportive-enough. This harsh criticism comes in spite of the fact that discussing sexual assault is extremely difficult, especially when it involves people close to you.
Taking her at her word, Liukin, who is now 28, said that she was still processing the allegations when she was asked about it, and just as it's unfair for the nation to demand an exactly perfect landing, it's unfair to demand exactly perfect language.
Now that she has had time to process (and, yes, now that it's become nationally read news), Liukin is taking steps to help fix and preserve gymnastics as a sport.
In her post, she announced that all proceeds from "ticket sales, merchandise sales, and any and all other revenue" from the Nastia Liukin Cup this year are being donated to an organization that supports victims of sexual abuse (as of publication of this story, she is still deciding which one). On Jan. 22, Liukin wrote on Twitter that she and her family donated $20,000 to the Joyful Heart, "an organization that helps transform those who have been sexually abused or assaulted," and she encouraged her followers to donate as well.
Liukin has also voiced support for the women who testified against Nassar on social media.
"My hope is this is the beginning of positive change," Liukin wrote in her January blog post. "I will do everything in my power to help our next generation never have to go through what my teammates went through."
Liukin added in the post that her father, Valeri, "wants to change the culture and environment of this program." However, this was written before Valeri Liukin's February resignation.
If you've seen Nastia's epic uneven bars routine, you've seen Valeri — he's the person who spotted her in competition, including at the Olympics. Valeri Liukin took over as national team coordinator in September 2016, which was after the Summer Olympics and after USA Gym reported Nassar to the FBI. He took the position over from icon Martha Karolyi (the 2016 team went by "Final Five" to note that they were Karolyi's last team). Martha and her husband Bela Karolyi are controversial figures in the gymnastics world as they're known for their strictness and their ranch, where training was held — and where, according to several women, Nassar abused athletes. USA Gym cut ties with the Karolyi ranch last month, and Valeri Liukin offered one of his gyms as a temporary training space in its stead.
Valeri Liukin was seen as a good fit for the team, and many believed he would be a considerably less stressful coordinator than the Karolyis. His resignation leaves the team without a leader; USA Gymnastics said in a statement that they "will begin the process to identify a National Team Coordinator for the women’s program." The resignation comes as people, including the U.S. Olympic Committee, are calling for USA Gym to clean house after Nassar's extensive abuse was made known.
Although Valeri Liukin has not been identified as someone who directly enabled Nassar, former U.S. national team member Mattie Larson did mention him in her victim impact statement at the Nassar case, saying that he made "me feel completely invisible." She said this to note that the general climate of USA Gymnastics was not healthy, even outside of Nassar's abuse. Many other survivors claimed that the negative environment within USA Gymnastics helped enable Nassar, as he presented himself to the athletes as a friendly, helpful face.
"The present climate causes me, and more importantly my family, far too much stress, difficulty and uncertainty," Valeri Liukin said in a statement announcing his resignation, according to Dallas News. "I wish the coaches and athletes continued success, and I stand ready to encourage and support all of them from a different vantage point," he added, per USA Today.
For her part, when the resignation was announced, Nastia Liukin kept her message simple. "Family is forever," she posted on Instagram alongside a photo of her hugging her father after the 2008 Olympics all-around competition.