Memmel Preps for Gymanstics Finals Tonight
BOSTON (AP) -- You've heard of a four-star performance. This was a four smiley-face sticker show.
Chellsie Memmel's father and coach, Andy, gives smiley-face stickers to everyone he trains for jobs well done, and that includes his oldest daughter, who turns 20 later this month. And nothing was more deserving of some ear-to-ear grins than Memmel's performance at the U.S. gymnastics championships Thursday night.
After missing much of the last two years with a devastating shoulder injury, the 2005 world champion from West Allis, Wis., was third in preliminaries with a performance that showed she will be very much in the mix for the Beijing Olympics.
"Mentally and emotionally, this was huge for Chellsie," Andy Memmel said. "She commanded the attention of the crowd again. She showed them, 'Hey, I'm still here. I can do this."'
Although most people's knowledge of the U.S. women begins with Shawn Johnson and ends with Nastia Liukin (or vice versa), from 2003 to the fall of 2006, Memmel was often the best thing going for the Americans.
A last-minute alternate to the 2003 world championship team, she quickly became the squad's rock star. She didn't miss a single routine in the team competition as she led the Americans to their first world title, then tied for the gold medal on uneven bars. She became only the third U.S. woman to win the world title in 2005 (Johnson has since joined the group), and added silvers on uneven bars and balance beam.
After posting the highest individual score in preliminaries at the 2006 world championships, she gutted through the finals despite blowing out her shoulder on uneven bars to help the Americans salvage a silver medal.
But it's the Olympics -- and the lead-up to the games -- where gymnasts make their mark with the U.S. public, and injuries have kept Memmel out of that spotlight. She missed the Athens Olympics after breaking a bone in her foot four months before the games. Still recovering from the November 2006 surgery to rebuild her right shoulder, she was at home in her own gym while the Americans turned the world championships into their personal party last fall.
"Watching worlds was hard," Memmel said. "But I wasn't ready."
She is now.
In her first full major competition since hurting her shoulder, Memmel had the second-highest scores of the night on balance beam (16.05) and uneven bars (16) Thursday. Only Johnson matched her start value, the measure of a routine's difficulty, on beam. Her start value on uneven bars puts her within striking distance of the world's best, and she's already planning additional upgrades.
She also tied for sixth on floor exercise.
"It's very satisfying, and I couldn't be happier," said Memmel, who competed despite a sore quadriceps. "I'm thrilled."
As was her father. When Memmel landed her dismount on uneven bars, Andy gave a Tiger Woods-like fist pump. He threw both hands in the air after she landed her first tumbling pass on floor exercise, and greeted her with a kiss on the top of her head after she finished.
Afterward, he gave her those coveted stickers, which Memmel uses as a training log. She saves each one in a book, and writes down exactly what she did to earn it.
"I had to bring a whole bunch of 'em," Andy Memmel said.
Finals are Saturday night, and the top 12 and others chosen by the selection committee qualify for the Olympic trials. The top two at trials earn spots on the Beijing team, with the rest of the six-woman squad named after a July 20 training camp at the Karolyi ranch.
But there's much more to filling out the team than picking the next four women on the scores list. Preliminaries and team finals are two very different competitions at the Olympics. In prelims, five gymnasts from each team compete on an apparatus and the best four scores count.
In team finals, though, only three gymnasts compete on each apparatus, and all three scores count. Make a major mistake, and the gold medal is gone. Two, and all you take home are those swanky Team USA outfits by Ralph Lauren.
So national team coordinator Martha Karolyi is looking for the right combination that will give the Americans consistency and monster scores on all four events.
Johnson and Liukin are considered locks if they're healthy, as is Alicia Sacramone. Sacramone is among the world's best on floor (she won the world title in 2005 and a silver last year) and vault (she's medaled at the last three world championships), and is also one of the top Americans on balance beam.
One spot where the Americans need help is uneven bars, and Memmel could fill the gap. Liukin's 17.05 on Thursday night was the highest score by an American -- man or woman, on any event -- since gymnastics went to its new, open-ended scoring system two years ago.
But that's only one score, and China has at least two gymnasts who can match that. At a World Cup meet in Tianjian, China, last month, He Kexin scored a 17.2.
"(Memmel) shows great consistency on bars, which is a very important event for the team," Karolyi said earlier this week. "We're definitely looking for strong bar routines. So far, we don't have so many routines with extra-high start values, and she is one who is attempting to get a 7.0 start value."
Although any praise from Karolyi is encouraging, Memmel knows she needs to continue her solid showings Saturday and at the Olympic trials to earn a trip to Beijing.
"Everybody has to do the best they can and hit everything," she said. "They're going to put together the team they think is the strongest."
But after where she's been, Thursday night was a great start.
"It's fun to see her perform again at this level," Andy Memmel said, "and perform well."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)