London 2012: US Gymnast's Rejection from Olympic Consideration Stirs Controversy

Robin Jutkiewicz@EllaMentryBRCorrespondent IIIMay 31, 2012

ST PAUL, MN - AUGUST 18:  Chellsie Memmel competes on the floor during the Senior Women's competition on day two of the Visa Gymnastics Championships at Xcel Energy Center on August 18, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Chellsie Memmel, a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, will not be returning for a second shot at the upcoming London Games, and some people are angry about how she was excluded from consideration.

A controversy is quietly brewing over Memmel’s rejected petition to gain entry to the Visa National Championships—which means she won’t be eligible to compete for an Olympic spot at the U.S. Trials. Not surprisingly, Marta Karolyi, the USA Gymnastics national team coordinator, is at the center of the swirl.

Memmel, the 2005 world champion and a tenacious competitor throughout her career, is considered a solid ensemble contributor. She was a part of the U.S. team that took silver in Beijing, and her second-place finish in all-around at the 2011 U.S. Cover Girl Classic showed she still has plenty of chops.

Nevertheless, as USA Today reported on Sunday, Karolyi confirmed Memmel's removal from Olympic team consideration after her showing at the Secret U.S. Classic in Chicago. That disappointed not only Memmel’s followers, but gymnastics fans in general, who see this not as a slap in the face but a larger issue of pure hypocrisy.

Karolyi told reporters that the selection committee determined prior to the competition that Memmel would need a score of 14.000 on balance beam, her sole event, to earn an invitation to the Nationals. Memmel, back in action after recovering from a shoulder injury she suffered in last year's Nationals, fell short of that mark.

Gymnastics is by all accounts a subjective sport. There is no clock to race against, no photo finishes, just human beings who judge an athlete’s worth at any given moment.

Apparently, the same applies to the selection process. In the opinion of Dominique Moceanu, a 1996 U.S. Olympic team gold medalist, the Karolyi-led selection committee may be playing fast and loose with the rules. When it comes to who represents America at the Olympics, there is some wiggle room. In a sport where past controversy revolved around biased judging, this matter smacks of duplicity.

How can the selection committee explain turning away Memmel when Shawn Johnson competed at the 2011 Cover Girl Classic by performing on two events and failing to accumulate the 14.000 average criteria? That was the very same meet in which Memmel won silver in all-around! No offense to Johnson, but why is Memmel not worthy of a shot when she outscored her?

Furthermore, Nastia Liukin has not competed in three years, but did attend the Karolyi Ranch (aka U.S. Olympic training camp). So, how did she get to go from zero to Nationals? 

Curiously, Karolyi stated that there were “no major surprises" at the Secret U.S. Classic last weekend (per ESPN). Could this mean the team had already been selected and the rest is a dog and pony show for USAG/NBC television revenue? 

Perhaps things would have turned out differently had Memmel attended the U.S. Olympic training camp —which coincidentally is owned by the Karolyis.

If Memmel’s career is to end on a sad and sour note, and if you believe those who voiced their alarm with the current happenings under USA Gymnastics, then this sport that has been fighting against “subjective judging” allegations for decades has taken a major step backward.

Whatever happened to the Olympic motto—Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger)? Perhaps it’s all in who has the real muscle.


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