Chellsie Memmel

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

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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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A recent history of U.S. Olympic gymnastics comebacks

Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman
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Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman seemed pleased with their return to competitive gymnastics in Italy on Saturday, their first meet since each won two gold medals at the London Olympics.

But history is not on their side on the road to the Rio 2016 Games.

Douglas, Raisman and McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross are trying to become the first U.S. women’s gymnasts to make back-to-back Olympic teams since Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow in 2000.

Since 2000, six U.S. Olympians tried and failed to return to the Games four years later. They included Olympic and World all-around champions, even gymnasts who won U.S. and World titles in the years leading into their squashed repeat bids.

The 2012 quartet fights not only a younger generation of gymnasts to make the five-woman 2016 Olympic team but also this history of the last six Olympians who attempted the same:

Nastia Liukin
2008 Olympic all-around champion

Liukin returned the season after the Beijing Olympics, placing fourth on the balance beam at the 2009 U.S. Championships. She announced a break from the sport two weeks later, citing not being in the physical shape she would like to compete and withdrawing from 2009 World Championships consideration.

Another two years passed before Liukin announced she was training for the 2012 Olympics. She returned to competition in May 2012. Her best finishes at the 2012 U.S. Championships and the U.S. Olympic Trials were sixth and seventh on the balance beam, respectively, missing the five-woman London Olympic team.

Shawn Johnson
2008 Olympic all-around silver medalist

Johnson went on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, and won, and then blew out her left knee in a January 2010 skiing accident. She took part in her first U.S. national team camp since the Beijing Olympics in November 2010 and returned to competition in 2011, with a best finish of fourth on balance beam at the U.S. Championships.

Johnson was the second alternate for the 2011 World Championships team and competed at the Pan American Games, placing second on uneven bars.

In June 2012, Johnson announced her retirement, four days before the U.S. Championships, citing continued problems with her left knee.

Alicia Sacramone
Ten-time World Championships medalist

Sacramone, the oldest member of the 2008 Olympic team, briefly retired in 2009 but returned to competition in 2010, winning the World title on vault. She claimed the U.S. balance beam title in 2011 but tore an Achilles tendon during World Championships training.

She endured, captured her sixth national title on vault and placed second on vault and beam at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. But she was not named to the U.S. Olympic team, which already had strong vaulters with all-around prowess.

Chellsie Memmel
2005 World all-around champion

Memmel competed at the 2009 U.S. Championships, placing eighth on balance beam, and then sat out 2010. She placed second in the all-around at the 2011 U.S. Classic, a U.S. Championships tune-up meet. At Nationals, she was eighth in the all-around and second on balance beam.

Memmel did not make the 2011 World Championships team but was selected for the Pan American Games. She withdrew before the Pan Am Games with a shoulder injury, which required surgeries in September 2011 and February 2012.

She competed once more, falling twice on the beam at the 2012 U.S. Classic, failing to meet a qualifying score and having her petition to compete at the 2012 U.S. Championships rejected.

Bridget Sloan
2009 World all-around champion

Sloan, the youngest member of the 2008 Olympic team, emerged as the world’s best gymnast the year after the Beijing Games. She won the U.S. and World Championships all-arounds.

She was limited by an ankle injury and a torn pectoral in 2010, keeping her from defending her U.S. all-around title. She still made it to the World Championships, where she placed fourth on the uneven bars.

In 2011, she joined Johnson on the Pan American Games team, which proved to be Sloan’s final international competition. Sloan placed 10th in the all-around at the 2012 U.S. Championships but suffered an elbow injury in warm-ups at the Olympic Trials and withdrew.

Tasha Schwikert
2001 and 2002 U.S. all-around champion

Schwikert, a 2000 Olympic alternate who competed in Sydney due to another gymnast’s injury, was the only member of the 2000 or 2004 U.S. Olympic teams who attempted to earn a spot at a second Games.

She captured U.S. all-around titles in 2001 and 2002 and was second to 2004 Olympian Courtney Kupets in 2003.

In 2004, Schwikert was third in the all-around after one of two days at the U.S. Championships, competing with a sore right Achilles. But she fell to ninth after the second day and was an alternate for the Athens 2004 Olympics. That time, she did not get called up to compete.

Catalina Ponor, three-time gymnastics gold medalist, eyes Rio 2016 Olympics comeback