US Olympic Hall of Fame welcomes three, including two controversial athletes from 1968 games

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September 23, 2019 - 2:22 pm

FILE - In this July 10, 2019, file photo, Nastia Liukin arrives at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles. Liukin is part of the 2019 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame class that will be inducted later this year. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

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When she was a kid, Nastia Liukin watched the Olympics on TV and thought how cool it might be to one day meet some of America's greatest athletes.

Then, she became one.

Now, she'll be in the Hall of Fame with them.

The champion gymnast and once-shunned track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos were named Monday to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame's class of 2019, part of what many in the U.S. Olympic world view as overdue recognition for the sprinters and an overdue revival for the hall itself.

"Going back to the 8-year-old Nastia, I was the girl who wanted to do flips because it was fun," Liukin said. "I never thought I'd be sitting here today with this news."

The USOPC will hold an induction ceremony on Nov. 1 in Colorado Springs, Colorado — the first since 2012.

After the Hall of Fame essentially stalled out, USOPC Sarah Hirshland pushed to revive it as part of a federation effort to focus more on athletes.

"We thank them for their impact on sport and society, and for continuing to inspire the next generation of athletes and fans," Hirshland said.

The induction of Smith and Carlos is long overdue. After being kicked out of the 1968 Olympics for their iconic raised-fist protest on the medals stand, the sprinters were left on the sideline of the official U.S. Olympic movement. Their 2016 visit to the White House, along with USOPC leaders, marked the first official event they'd been part of since their ouster in 1968.

The rest of the class: Candace Cable, Erin Popovich, Chris Waddell (Paralympics), Lisa Leslie (basketball), Misty May-Treanor (beach volleyball), Apolo Anton Ohno (short track speedskating), Dara Torres (swimming), the 1998 U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Team), Ron O'Brien (diving coach) and Tim Nugent (special contributor).

Liukin, who will call gymnastics for NBC at next year's Olympics, founded an app called Grander that is designed to inspire and empower women in and out of sports.

She stays in touch with her gold-medal-winning team from 2008, which included Shawn Johnson and Alicia Sacramone — and now she's the first of them to enter the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

"Something like the Olympics, it's hard to quite put into words," Liukin said. "The pride and honor you feel representing Team USA, and to be able to do it with teammates, it's something you only dream of."

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