I’m still in shock that Chellsie Memmel’s petition to compete in the Visa U.S. Championships has been denied.
On one hand, it just sounds brutally fair. After all, Martha and the rest of the selection committee stated upfront they were looking for 14’s, on average, from gymnasts vying to qualify for the upcoming nationals. Chellsie competed just one event at today’s U.S. Classic in Chicago, and her two falls from beam plummeted her score to a disastrous 11.95. Even if she had decided to compete on the other three events, this two-point deficit from the 14-mark would have been extremely difficult to make up.
But on the other hand, it feels like a slap in the face. After all, Chellsie is one of the most successful, most valuable, and most tenacious gymnasts the U.S. has ever produced. She’s a former world all-around champion, world bars champion, world team champion, world beam medalist, and Olympic medalist. She’s proven time and time again her unmatched ability to return to top form after injury, and to compete brilliantly under unimaginable pressure – particularly in critical team situations. She was showing a fantastic all-around just nine months ago, and had she not reinjured her shoulder at last year’s nationals, would have likely made the 2011 world team. It’s not as if Chellsie just decided to make a last-minute run for this team – she’s still in the midst of recovering from the two shoulder surgeries she has undergone since her last competition. She showed a very high skill level on beam here – including a brand new combination of Arabian to immediate Korbut – as well as excellent tumbling on floor and solid work on bars during the training. Nearly all of us assumed that competing here at the U.S. Classic was just Chellsie’s way of getting back into competition mode before the real Olympic selection events begin – not about actually qualifying for them.
But after missing her first routine back in competition – which was packed with difficulty and which she could have easily watered down had she wanted to – Chellsie Memmel is being dismissed from the Olympic selection process entirely? Is that really fair?
Fair or not, I’m still stunned that it happened, and I’m guessing Chellsie and her father are as well. Had they anticipated she might not be able to petition to nationals after a missed routine like that, I doubt she would have even competed in this competition.
You have to wonder – if “14” really was the magic number to get a gymnast to nationals, does that mean that if Nastia Liukin had scored below this number, she would have failed to qualify as well? Fortunately for Nastia, we won’t know the answer to that question, but it sure is an interesting one. Just one fall would have put Nastia’s score below a 14.
Had Chellsie been healthy and competing over the last year and still couldn’t get it totally together for this competition, that would be a different story. And it would also be another story if we were talking about her trying to petition directly to the Olympic team, or even to the Olympic Trials for that matter. But a gymnast with her track record who was literally in the mix less than a year ago and is obviously still on her way back from two surgeries gets denied the chance to even compete in the national championships? I’m speechless.
If anything, keeping Chellsie Memmel in the mix would help sell tickets to nationals and to Trials, and would help keep the drama and excitement surrounding the returning five Olympians that much more alive. I know these don’t necessarily sound like fair reasons to accept a gymnast to nationals, but this type of consideration for publicity would be nothing new for our sport. I would have expected these reasons alone to be enough to tip the decision of the selection committee in Chellsie’s favor – particularly in the midst of such a controversial dilemma.
The saddest part of all is that this unfortunately might be Chellsie’s last competitive routine ever – and it was the first time we’ve ever seen her fall TWO times off beam in a competition. We’ve hardly ever seen her fall once on this event. What athlete could possibly feel good about retiring on a routine like that? I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chellsie Memmel cry before, but I’d have a hard time believing she’s not shedding some tears tonight after this heartbreaking decision.
I believe every champion should be given the chance to say goodbye to his or her sport respectfully, and turning down Chellsie Memmel’s petition to give it one last go in the national championships amidst a very impressive comeback from injury fails to do that. I find it hard to envision Chellsie allowing something like this to serve as her final farewell. If she chooses to move on, I wish her the best, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her stick around for another year – or at least another competition – to end her career with the routine and the emotion that she truly deserves.