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Chellsie Memmel’s Olympic Dream Unfairly Cut Short

Olympic Rings at St Pancras Station, London by Jon Dickins, Ruth Carter

Olympic Rings at St Pancras Station, London by Jon Dickins

This weekend is the Visa National Gymnastics Championships. It’s the beginning of the final events leading up to the 2012 Olympics Games in London. Every time elite gymnastics is on TV, my world comes to a screeching halt so I can watch it. It’s my Super Bowl.

I was really pissed off when I heard that Olympic silver medalist Chellsie Memmel’s petition to compete in the national championships was denied. There was also a rumor that USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny pressured Chellsie announce her retirement.

Female gymnasts with Olympic potential are usually identified when they are 8 or 9 years old. They train tirelessly for years often sacrificing their time, their bodies, their families’ finances, and for some their emotional well-being in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Gymnastics is their lives. It’s cruel and irresponsible to raise a girl to give up everything to chase a dream and then to rip it away from her.

Chellsie is the 2005 world all-around gymnastics champion. She has 6 world championship medals to her name. She’s overcome numerous injuries over the years and she was making a comeback to compete in this year’s Olympic Games. If she thinks she has unfinished business in her gymnastics career, then she should be able to see things through to their natural end, not when the powers that be at USA Gymnastics are done with her. Every gymnast should be able to end their career on their own terms.

Some people may argue that Chellsie shouldn’t have been allowed to compete in the national championships since she didn’t get a high enough score at the U.S. Classic. That argument would make sense if elite gymnastics was fair and objective.  But it’s not. It’s very political. I’ve watched the politics play out since the 1992 Olympic Games. Some coaches have the power to put their gymnasts on an Olympic or World team even if other girls are better than them.

Only five women will be selected for this year’s Olympic gymnastics team, and I think four of the five spots are essentially spoken for so long as no one gets injured. The competition for the final slot and the alternate positions will be fierce. This country is teeming with gymnastics talent. I think Chellsie was a long shot to make this year’s team, but the odds shouldn’t have prevented her from being a player. It wouldn’t have been a big deal to print out one more number and let her try.

Forcing Chellsie out of a sport she dedicated her life to was mean and wrong. I hope she’s not walking away from the competition floor with too bitter a taste in her mouth.

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