As well as anybody, Chellsie Memmel knows that when it comes to earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic gymnastic team, timing and luck are as crucial as a clean floor routine.
When the U.S. Olympic trials are held June 19 to 22 at the Wachovia Center, Memmel will have a great chance to make the team and could become a household name competing in Beijing.
If she's healthy.
"She just needs to stay healthy these last seven months," 1996 U.S. Olympic hero Kerri Strug said yesterday. "Her gymnastics and her level of difficulty is one of the best - or the best - in the world in most every event."
The peaks and valleys are all on Memmel's resume. A broken foot kept her from being more than an alternate in Athens in 2004. The next year, she scaled the heights, winning the 2005 world all-around title.
Memmel has several signature moves named for her.
Yet she's just now returning to form after a year of rehabilitation from shoulder surgery, after falling from the uneven bars.
"I lost all my strength in my arm," Memmel, from West Allis, Wis., said yesterday, on a local tour with Strug to promote the Olympic trials. "I couldn't lift it for a month. . . . But I still had a goal. That's what kept me going."
For this sport, Memmel is a veteran, turning 20 in June. The reigning world all-around champion is another American, Shawn Johnson, who turns 16 next month. But Memmel decided after '04 that she was going to stick around for another Olympic cycle. She said she was pleased with how she competed in her first international competitions back, in China and Japan.
Coming in third in the balance beam and floor exercise last month in the Good Luck Beijing International Tournament in the Chinese capital, an Olympic test event, and following that up by winning the floor and coming in second on the beam in Japan were important for Memmel.
She is trained by her father, who runs a gym in West Allis but also gave up a full-time job as an electrician three years ago to train his daughter.
Their sacrifices won't factor in, but the U.S. team isn't selected solely on scores at the trials. It's a selection process. And international judges also are watching all the competitions to see who has reached top form.
Not only that, but the number of required moves has increased over the years. Strug said she had to do only three tumbling passes during her floor exercise in Atlanta to get in all the required elements. Memmel did four passes to get them all in during the same time period in '04, and now she's up to five.
"Clearly, there is a human limit," said Strug, who now works for the Justice Department in Washington.
Even Memmel's recovery from shoulder surgery was more involved than for the average athlete, she said.
"I'm more flexible than the average person, so I needed special types of exercises to get the end-range stuff back for my shoulder," Memmel said.
She professed confidence that she would be a big part of things when gymnastics comes to South Broad Street in June. She also could easily remember nailing her last floor routine in Melbourne, Australia, to take the world championship in 2005.
"I have a lot more experience than I had three years ago," Memmel said.
Tickets for the Olympic trials will go on sale in January, and are already available for those affiliated with local gymnastics clubs. To watch a video of the interview with 2005 world champion Chellsie Memmel, go to go.philly.com/gymnast.EndText