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Liukin steps down as US women’s gymnastics team coordinator

(AP) — The coordinator of the women’s national team for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics has stepped down, the latest departure to rock the embattled organization in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal centered on former team doctor Larry Nassar.

Valeri Liukin made the announcement on Friday, less than 18 months after taking over for Martha Karolyi in September 2016.

Liukin said in a statement that while he wanted to help turn the program around, “the present climate causes me, and more importantly my family, far too much stress, difficulty and uncertainty.”

USA Gymnastics thanked for “for his dedication and contributions to the sport of gymnastics” and said it will begin the search for his replacement immediately. Liukin’s decision came just days after the USA Gymnastics board of directors stepped down under pressure from the United States Olympic committee.

The USOC announced Friday it hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation into decades-long abuse by Nassar, a longtime doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University who is awaiting sentencing for assault charges against athletes at a Michigan gym. Nassar has already been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison on similar charges in a separate case completed last week and was previously sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges.

Dozens of women have filed civil lawsuits against Nassar and USA Gymnastics, with at least one lawsuit also naming Bela and Martha Karolyi as co-defendants. Liukin has not been named as a co-defendant in any of the pending litigation.

Liukin, a four-time Olympic medalist while competing for the Soviet Union, is the father of 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin. He is the longtime owner of World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Texas and served as the elite development coordinator for USA Gymnastics from 2013 until taking over for Karolyi shortly after the 2016 Olympics.

Liukin says it’s time for him to move in a different direction right now, but he will still support and encourage athletes and coaches from a different vantage point.