West Allis' Memmel Waits for Olympic Gymnastics Berth
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A spot on the Olympic team would have been an incredible present for Chellsie Memmel's 20th birthday.
Instead, Memmel, Alicia Sacramone and Samantha Peszek are in gymnastics limbo. Most assume the trio will be going to the Beijing Games alongside reigning world champion Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin. And national team coordinator Martha Karolyi certainly talks as if the three are on the team.
But ... they're not. Not yet, at least.
"I'm not going to lie, it was frustrating last night," Memmel, from West Allis, Wis., said on Monday, her birthday. "It is frustrating knowing how well we did and not being put on the team. This will make us go home and work even harder."
Only the top two finishers at the Olympic trials -- Johnson and Liukin -- were guaranteed places on the Beijing team. But many thought Karolyi might go a little crazy and name a few more, especially since Memmel, Sacramone and Peszek have such solid resumes.
After missing much of the last two years with a blown-out shoulder, Memmel has been the feel-good story of the team. She was third at trials, the same spot she had at the national championships two weeks ago, and actually was second to Johnson in Sunday's all-around competition. She led the United States to its first world title in 2003, and became only the third American woman to win the world all-around gold in 2005 (Johnson has since made it four).
Sacramone has been the backbone of the U.S. squad since late 2004, winning seven medals at the world championships. She's among the world's best on floor and vault. And Peszek is rock steady, a member of last year's gold-medal world team who is getting better with each meet.
"You never know for sure what is happening," Karolyi said when asked if the three are locks for the team, singling each one out for praise. "But if it would be today that we will decide, I'd have those, and we'd just discuss the sixth spot."
Instead, the remaining four team members, along with three alternates, will be chosen July 20 after a selection camp at Karolyi's ranch outside of Houston. Jana Bieger, Chelsea Davis, Ivana Hong, Mattie Larson, Corrie Lothrop, Bridget Sloan and Shayla Worley joined Memmel, Peszek and Sacramone on the selection camp training squad.
"A little part of me really wished they could have named a few more girls," Peszek said. "At the same time, I understand why they did it, and I totally respect the system."
Actually, if Karolyi had her way, she wouldn't put anybody on the team now, not with seven weeks left before the Beijing Games begin. That's too much time, and Karolyi has seen too much happen to lock people in this early. Someone could get injured. Someone who's injured now could get healthy. Someone could secure a spot on the team and slack off. Someone unexpected could peak at just the right time.
"I like to select the team closer to the date because that shows their competition shape," Karolyi said.
But the rules are the rules, so Johnson and Liukin heard their names called and got showered with confetti.
Although Memmel, Sacramone and Peszek knew all along that only two would be named, there was still that little bit of hope. When USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny left the stage, though, they couldn't help but be a little deflated. This, after all, is what they've been training their entire lives for.
Back at the hotel, Memmel and Sacramone commiserated about their fates. Both 20, they are the two oldest members of the team.
"We just vented to each other," Sacramone said. "I'm like, 'I'm getting old, I just really want to know for my own personal comfort.' She's like, 'Oh, yeah.' Then we showered, put on our makeup and went out."
Although the long, drawn-out process might seem excessive to some -- or unfair to those folks who shelled out big bucks for this weekend's trials -- there are reasons behind it. Gymnastics has changed a great deal over the last decade, and it's no longer enough to take the top six finishers at trials and call them a team. Do that, and the Americans could forget about any medal, let alone the gold they're favored to win.
The scoring format in team finals requires countries to compete three gymnasts on each event -- and count all three scores. That means Karolyi must find a team that will put up three monstrous scores, and do it without a single mistake. She knows what she'll get from Memmel, Peszek and Sacramone, and has already got them in her mental lineup.
But she wants every last second to analyze the team and make sure she's got it right.
When gold is at stake, nothing less is acceptable.
"I want to see the situation in three weeks," she said. "I hope it will be the same, but you never know."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)