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Memmel surprising third in U.S.gymnastics

BOSTON - Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin were right where they were supposed to be, wearing gold and silver medals on the podium after the Visa national gymnastics championships.

BOSTON - Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin were right where they were supposed to be, wearing gold and silver medals on the podium after the Visa national gymnastics championships.

The surprise was the woman next to them. Chellsie Memmel, who won the all-around world championship in 2005 - a gymnastics lifetime ago - rebounded from two injury-plagued years to finish third all-around.

"My dad told me he'd be really happy with the top six," Memmel said of Andy Memmel, who is also her coach. "I just looked at him, like that's not going to fly with me. I wanted the top three."

Johnson won her second consecutive all-around national title. Liukin won gold medals in uneven bars and balance beam and actually outscored Johnson yesterday in the second day of competition.

The golden girls are the prohibitive favorites to be No. 1 and No. 1A at the Olympic trials June 19-22 at the Wachovia Center. That would give them the two automatic berths for the six-woman team that will compete at the Summer Olympics in Beijing in August.

The rest of the team, plus alternates, will be selected at a high-pressure tryout camp at the Karolyi ranch in mid-July. It is hard to imagine team coordinator Martha Karolyi leaving Memmel or the rest of the top six - Samantha Peszek, Ivana Hong and Jana Bieger - off the team.

But then there are the likes of Alicia Sacramone, who won medals in three events here but didn't compete on uneven bars; Shayla Worley, a 2007 world team champion nursing a back injury, and Bridget Sloan, who looked strong here despite a knee injury that kept her off the vault.

The competition in Philadelphia and at the selection camp will be intense.

The biggest surprise of this meet, Karolyi said, was the "improvement of Chellsie Memmel. Chellsie has come back step-by-step, sometimes almost we were losing patience. But at the right moment she had an excellent competition. She looks like the Chellsie of old."

Memmel considered withdrawing from the competition when she injured her thigh in warm-ups Thursday. She decided to hang in, she said, "because if I didn't compete here, I wouldn't be going to the Olympics. It was that simple."

"She really wants to go to Beijing," Andy Memmel said. "She showed how much she wants it. This was a coming out party, like she was saying, 'Don't forget about me.' "

A total of 19 gymnasts will be invited to the trials. The other automatic berths went to top-12 finishers Mattie Larson, Corrie Lothrop, Randy Stageberg, Mackenzie Caquatto, Olivia Courtney and Alaina Johnson.

Seven additional spots were awarded to injured athletes or specialists who didn't compete in all four events here. The seven: Sacramone, Sloan, Worley, Mount Laurel's Darling Hill, Bucks County's Amber Trani, Britney Ranzi and Chelsea Davis.

"I feel like I'd like to leave the door open until as close to competition as possible," Karolyi said, explaining the large field for the trials.

Miele makes team. Annette Miele, a 15-year-old from Easton, Pa., was named to the junior national team after finishing 10th in the all-around competition yesterday.

Miele, who won a bronze medal in the vault, was waiting for the medal ceremony when she was handed a red, white and blue warm-up suit.

"I was completely shocked," said Miele, a student at Easton High. "It's a lot of work going for this one goal, and I made it. I felt good about my routines. I thought I went 4 for 4."

Jordyn Wieber of Dewitt, Mich., won the junior all-around national championship.

Miele was one of four Parkettes competing in the junior nationals. Danielsville's Madeline Hanley finished 15th overall and was 12th on the uneven bars. Her sister, Cassandra, was 24th in the all-around, while 12-year-old Elizabeth Price of Coopersburg finished 24th.

Another Parkette, senior gymnast Geralen Stack-Eaton of Horsham, withdrew from the national-championship meet. Stack-Eaton, who finished sixth overall at last year's nationals, is going to compete at the University of Alabama starting next year.