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Everything you need to know about Nastia Liukin

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Nastia Liukin took the world by storm during the 2008 Olympic Games, clinching gold in the women’s gymnastics all-around. Ascending to the top of her sport, Liukin quickly captured national attention and admiration, solidifying her place as gymnastics royalty.

Born in Moscow, Raised in Texas

Gymnastics has been part of Liukin’s life from the start, after she was born to two Soviet champion gymnasts, Valeri Liukin and Anna Kotchneva, in Moscow in 1989. When she was just two years old, Liukin, along with her parents, moved to the United States, landing first in New Orleans and then settling in Dallas, TX.

Liukin’s parents immediately started on their shared dream of establishing a gymnastics gym and training facility. The young star quickly started hanging around her parents’ business, taking to the sport right away.

Soon after Liukin began training, her father reluctantly began coaching her, something he initially hoped to avoid. The sport’s physical dangers motivated Liukin’s dad to watch over her, spot her and ensure his daughter’s safety.

“I think they really, really were hoping that I wasn’t going to be good,” Liukin told Kelly O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast, adding that her parents were worried their success in the sport would be too much pressure for their daughter.

Liukin’s future in the sport was never a forgone conclusion, with the gymnast inheriting her mother’s taller, slender body type rather than the more compact strength necessary for an artistic gymnast. It wasn’t until she made the junior national team at 12-years old that Liukin felt that people started to notice her burgeoning talent. Though Liukin was too young to participate in the 2004 Olympics, Carly Patterson, who trained at Liukin’s gym, won the all-around gold in Athens, giving the teen hope for her own Olympic dreams. In 2005, Liukin won gold in the balance beam and uneven bars at the World Championship, racking up silver medals in all-around and floor, and setting off an illustrious junior career.

Ahead of the 2008 Olympics, in 2007, Liukin hit a snag, injuring her ankle.

“That year at Worlds, I traveled in a wheelchair, couldn’t walk,” Liukin recalls to O’Hara, adding that she could only compete for the team on uneven bars.

Eventually, Liukin underwent surgery after reinjuring her ankle, leading to what she deems “the worst year of my career.” But in hindsight, Liukin says the challenging year was the “best thing that kind of could have happened,” adding that the “low down” lit a fire ahead of the Olympics.

2008 Olympics

After coming second in the Olympic Trials to Shawn Johnson East, Liukin was named to the Team USA roster, with the moment only feeling real to the 18-year-old when she boarded the flight to Beijing. Soon the hype started to build as roommates and teammates Liukin and East began competing against each other for individual medals.

The 2008 Games marked the first Olympics where two American gymnasts were favored to go one and two in the coveted all-around event, creating a palpable rivalry between Liukin and East.

“We were fine being roommates — we were actually really good friends that just happened to have the same exact goal,” said Liukin, revealing that the relationship began to change around the all-around event. After Liukin clinched gold in the all-around and East took silver, the two tried their best to support each other, but the competition and noise around both athletes made that difficult.

Though complicated by a complex team dynamic, capturing the all-around title was an unforgettable moment Liukin shared with her father and coach.

“I’ve never in my life seen my dad cry, and I spotted him way across the arena and he was crying,” Liukin recalls of the medal ceremony. The Olympic feat was very much a full-circle moment, with her dad having won silver in the all-around 20 years prior.

Liukin finished the Beijing Games with silver medals in balance beam, team, uneven bars, and a bronze in the floor exercise.

Post-Olympic life

Following the Olympics, Liukin reveals she experienced moments of depression, wondering what came next after achieving her wildest dreams. Her lingering melancholy was compounded by Liukin’s deteriorating friendship with East. The post-Olympic media circus and rival management teams had torn the former friends apart.

“It felt like the world just started pitting us against each other in every single aspect — it was 10 times worse than leading up to the Olympics,” admits Liukin.

After eight years of silence between the former competitors, Johnson reached out to Liukin via email, with the two eventually agreeing to meet up. Following the initial reunion, Liukin attended East’s wedding, even becoming the godmother to the couple’s first child.

The two are not shy about their evolving friendship, often reliving their days as competitors and bringing fans along on their reconciliation journey.

Gymnastics Retirement

After taking a much-needed two years off from the sport following her Olympic debut, Liukin decided to make a run for the 2012 London Games. Making it all the way to the Olympic Trials, Liukin faced one of the hardest moments in her career, falling during her best event, the uneven bars.

“I fell face first and faceplanted,” Liukin remembers. After the initial shock wore off, Liukin dusted herself off to the crowd’s adoration.

“I wanted to crawl under the podium,” said Liukin. “Then I was like, ‘okay wait, this isn’t how my career ends.’”

The American star finished the routine, and though she was embarrassed and knew her Olympic dreams were dashed, the crowd gave Liukin a standing ovation. That moment helped Liukin to realize her worth wasn’t defined solely by her gymnastics successes.

She retired from the mat shortly after that competition, officially leaving gymnastics.

What’s next

Liukin left gymnastics as a competitor but has hung around the sport after being hired as an NBC commentator. Most recently, Liukin covered the Tokyo Games, establishing herself as a compelling sports broadcaster who we’ll likely see again during the 2024 Games.

Liukin also maintains a website where she shares her love for all things “fitness, fashion, beauty, and living a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle.”

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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