Monday, 28 May 2012

Farewell Chellsie?

Rules are rules, but it seems few of us are ready to bid farewell to Chellsie Memmel quite yet...

It is never good when an unbelievable journey isn’t graced with an unbelievable ending. We learned that with LOST, we saw it again with Desperate Housewives, and this weekend in Chicago the rollercoaster that is Chellsie Memmel was stopped without one last trip around the tracks.

I would be shocked if anyone reading this didn’t already know the circumstances, but for clarity...

In the excitement of watching small scale US domestic competitions like the Classic to see how people are progressing and keep our beady eyes peeled for upgrades, we can often forget that they have a specific purpose. The US Classic is a qualifier to the VISA National Championships later in the sporting year.

Now, Chellsie Memmel, although she is a superstar in the fans eyes, has not competed internationally since the Beijing Olympics. Therefore she needed to use this competition not only as a practice (like it was for Wieber, Douglas, Raisman etc due to being on last year’s world team) but she needed to fulfil certain requirements in order to qualify.

For event specialists, this basement level requirement is a score of 14.000 on the apparatus of choice. As Chellsie opted to compete only on beam, this is the score she would have needed in order to advance to Nationals. As we all know, this did not come to pass. Falls on two major skills cost Chellsie dearly, and she posted the lowest beam score of the competition.

Not the easiest watch. Shame about the Arabian - Korbut connection, I like the idea

As a result, Chellsie’s petition to Nationals has been denied (similarly to the Dominique Moceanu situation in 2006, and therefore feelings of sympathy might explain Moceanu’s heated tweeting on the topic) and she becomes the first top name gymnast to be officially out of the Olympic selection process. As of this weekend, Chellsie’s gymnastics career is over.

It just doesn’t feel right: like a giant blazing fire being blown out by a breeze. There is an overwhelming sense that the Memmel saga deserves more of a bang than this damp fizzling out.


Rules are rules

 It cannot be denied that a big part of the reason the online fans are so up in arms about this decision is due to Chellsie’s popularity. People see her as a fighter, a likeable character who has always seemed to be a determined, charismatic athlete; and more importantly,  a team player.

Memmel deserves this appreciation. No doubt about that, and it pretty much sums up the way I feel about her as an athlete. She always appeared to always try her best to get the job done, but faced a greater than average share of setbacks and bad luck along the way. Of the top USA WAG competitors this decade, I would say she is probably the one with the most underdog appeal. People root for her more universally than many of her compatriots, because we have watched her hit walls so many times and we all want her to get her slice of good luck.

BUT, imagine if it was Nastia Liukin who had fallen from the beam twice and posted the lowest score. If she was granted a trip to nationals, people would not be sympathetic. They would say she was undeserving and in it for the fame. However, Nastia DID hit. She scored the 14.000+ she needed and pretty much smashed it. Sure her connections were a bit off, but they always were anyway.

Switch ring less than great, but on the whole pretty impressive

This is why we have frameworks like these qualification rules in life: they give a structure to certain events and prevent unfair biases stemming from subjective likes and dislikes. It does not help in this situation that gossip in previous years has been that Chellsie is not favoured by Marta, allowing many of us to get hotheaded and claim this is a personal attack based on personal opinions. When all the information is viewed from a cold, non emotional standpoint it simply boils down to this: Memmel knew what had to happen, and sadly she couldn’t make it happen on this occasion.


In what may seem like a contradiction to the above, in the end it will pretty much be Marta’s decision who goes to London. Although I just now advocated following rules to the letter, if Marta really thought Chellsie has a shot at a spot on her dream team, she would have found a way to get her through to Nationals. So in a way, although it may have been a simple case of rule following, this could have been Marta’s way of saying “you are not going to be on my team, so save yourself the stress and call it a day here”. At least it is honest.


Not to make assumptions about Memmel in any way, but if her general portrayal is anything to go by it would seem that her determination and fighting spirit got her to where she is, and not necessarily her health. Given that she wouldn’t make the Olympic team (obviously that is my opinion, but I am pretty sure most people would concur) maybe it IS a good thing for her to stop before something else happens.


The Pan-Ams issue

Shawn Johnson does not have to qualify because she attended the Pan American games last year. Chellsie was named to this team but withdrew. Now, it could be argued that being deemed good enough to represent the USA internationally last year should earn Memmel a ticket to Nationals even though she didn’t actually go.

Was this all about London?

If Chellsie was only continuing to try for a London team spot, then this might be less of an issue as mentioned above. However, perhaps she would have been just fine with bowing out after a good show at nationals and another go in front of her fans?


Chellsie is one of the faces of noughties US gymnastics and, as discussed, a huge favourite with the fans. Sure, the rules are not made to be broken, but surely in certain circumstances room can be made for the long time contributors? Even if just for the sake of making Nationals a better competition for the fans to watch.

Further, and I appreciate I am about to enter dangerously subjective and speculative territory here, but WHY did Chellsie have shoulder problems anyway? Was it indeed because she put her health and individual competitive record on the line by slogging it out for the team effort in 2006? Perhaps if Memmel was the kind of person to shy away from giving a team meet everything she had, she would have a stack more world medals and a much shorter health bill.

Some people might think that a young girl who sacrificed her health for USA gymnastics should be granted one more day on the national podium. (and indeed many do, as revealed by the petition being signed here: )


-          Chellsie will forever be a double individual world champion
-          Chellsie will forever be a USA gymnastics legend
-          Chellsie will forever be the girl who repeatedly stunned commentators, fans, bloggers and the world with her ability to bounce back and look amazing again

Nothing like proving the gruesome threesome wrong

Whenever I think of Chellsie Memmel I am instantly reminded of this: one day, 3 stuck dismounts and two stuck double pikes. Memmel was always a pleasure to watch and her contributions will be sorely missed.

Wham, Bam, Thankyou Memmel. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I just love her. One of my all-time favs. So sad...

  3. Mine too. She is one of the only gymnasts who I liked when I started getting properly obsessed with gymnastics that I still like today. Such great skills and so many good performances.

    Yeah it just doesn't seem right...

  4. "Rules are rules."

    But that is NOT the rule; that's exactly why so many people disagree with this. The score was a completely arbitrary verbal baseline (not even written down and widely known to the gymnasts!) which the gymnasts are allowed to circumvent via petition at the whim of the committee. In other words, there ARE no rules; there are merely the appearance of rules so Marta can let in anybody she likes and deny anybody she doesn't.

    If they don't want to deal with this, then they have to have a real process: you have to meet this score, full stop. Not "you have to meet this score but don't worry, we'll let in anybody we like who doesn't." But then Marta runs the risk of one of her favorites having a bad day just like Chellsie, and then where would she be?

  5. Yeah I do agree, I was under the impression that they were rules, but I should have done more research into the qualification process. Needless to say, I am on Chellsie's side whatever that may be

    1. It's okay, I understand! I'm just angry that the petition process is meant for exactly this situation (great gymnast having an uncharacteristically bad day) and Marta is choosing to ignore that and pretend that a routine with two falls is the best Chellsie is capable of. What's the point of even pretending the process is fair or makes sense, if this is the kind of gymnast whose petition she denies?

      Chellsie has basically no chance to make the Olympic team, we all know that, but what harm could it possibly be to let her come to Nationals and show off her finished routines for her fans as a send-off instead of this?

  6. I think it's difficult, if not impossible, to know what the rules are. When I first followed the Olympic Trials in 1996, we knew that the gymnasts with the top scores moved on to the Olympics. Or something like that. The point is, it was simple. Now, not so much.