Chellsie Memmel, 12 years after her Olympics, came back to gymnastics as a mom

Chellsie Memmel
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Chellsie Memmel, a 2008 Olympic gymnast who retired in 2012, documented what she titled an Adult Gymnastics Journey the last 16 weeks on YouTube, but she felt nervous about uploading last Friday’s video.

That’s because of what she chose to include at the end, a short conversation with her father and coach, Andy, inside M&M Gymnastics, the family’s gym in New Berlin, Wis., just outside Milwaukee.

“OK, anything else you want to say,” Andy asked.

“Well, I guess it’s time to admit this is a comeback,” Memmel said.

What does that mean? Well, Memmel called U.S. women’s high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster in July to discuss just that.

The first step toward competing for the first time in eight years would be attending a camp, though the coronavirus pandemic put the sport on pause.

“It would be fun to make it to a competition,” Memmel, a 32-year-old mother of two, said by phone Sunday. “We haven’t set our sights on anything specific yet, but thinking about routines and formulating plans.”

Memmel isn’t yet speculating about the national championships or Olympics (in 2021, she will be older than any U.S. Olympic gymnast in 60 years), but said it would be cool to get another skill named after her.

She’s consistently working on a piked Arabian flip on the balance beam, which no woman has performed in international competition. If Memmel can do that, perhaps at a World Cup meet, it will be named after her, to go along with an eponymous skill she already has on floor exercise.

She went about seven years between doing skills on a four-foot-tall and four-inch-wide beam.

Memmel’s father said in a video posted June 11 that she was “95 percent in shape.”

“The dad in me is like, she’s crazy, why are we still doing this?” he said. “And the coach is going, it’s so easy, why are you not still doing this?”

By posting Friday’s video, Memmel hit a milestone in a process that began in late 2018.

“That just gives it more of a commitment,” Memmel said of the video, which had 38,000 views as of Monday morning. “I’m committed to doing gymnastics. I’m committed to training. Once you do that [say ‘comeback’], there’s a certain level of expectation. More just from me. Not from anybody else.”

It all started with “Chellsie Challenge” videos — also uploaded to her YouTube channel — of gymnastics-related exercises. She called that conditioning, one year after giving birth to her second child, daughter Audrielle.

By early 2019, Memmel, also a gymnastics coach to 18 girls ages 12 to 18 and a judge at all six of Simone Biles‘ national championships, began “playing around more” with gymnastics.

“I’m in shape. I like doing gymnastics. I like flipping. Let’s just see how it feels,” Memmel said. “I had done that hard part [conditioning], so why not reward myself with flipping again? Once I started doing that, it was that much more fun, and I looked forward to working out even more because I was doing gymnastics again.”

In her most recent video, Memmel trained in a mid-2000s era leotard (due to losing a bet).

Her first international splash came in 2003, winning the world title on uneven bars at age 15. She broke a bone in her left foot in April 2004 and petitioned into an Olympic selection camp, but ultimately traveled to the Athens Games as an alternate.

Memmel asked her dad to start coaching her for the 2008 Olympic cycle. She grabbed the 2005 World all-around title by .001 over Nastia Liukin, and in doing so won a bet with her father from the previous year. Andy bought her a silver Audi TT.

In 2006, Memmel qualified first into the world all-around final. But, between qualifying and individual events, she felt her right shoulder pop during a transition skill on bars in the team final. She finished the routine, withdrew from the meet and had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff.

It took about two months to lift her arm over her head again. She didn’t fully return until 2008, taking third behind Shawn Johnson and Liukin at the national championships and Olympic Trials. In Beijing, Memmel broke a bone in her right ankle in training, limiting her to one apparatus, bars, in qualifying and the team final where the U.S. took silver.

Memmel didn’t quit.

She came back from two more shoulder surgeries in September 2011 and February 2012 to bid for the London Olympic team. She competed on one event at a tune-up meet, falling twice off the balance beam at the May 2012 U.S. Classic. Her petition to the U.S. Championships was controversially denied by USA Gymnastics. She retired later that year.

She was back at nationals in 2013, as a judge, and has been throughout the Biles era. She stayed close to the sport amid major life changes in her 20s — marriage to Kory Maier and the birth of son Dashel in 2015 and Audrielle in 2017.

Bars were Memmel’s trademark as a teenager. It’s been the toughest apparatus to get back this year. She’s exercising patience swinging on those shoulders.

“It took the longest to convince myself to try bars,” she said. “They [shoulders] feel really great now. I want them to stay that way.”

Memmel trains three days a week and is in the gym more than that, usually accompanied by her kids, who take gymnastics classes.

“When I started working out and taking time each week to do something that was just for me, it made me a happier person, and it made me a better mom,” she said. “Then, when I started doing gymnastics more, they can see that you can set goals and work hard for something and try to achieve something. I think that’s a really great message to send to your kids. Not just to tell them, but to actively show them.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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