- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 9, 2008

BEIJING | Chellsie Memmel will have one chance to help the United States women’s gymnastics team qualify for the finals and a shot at a gold medal.

Not that there’s any pressure on her.

An ankle injury sustained in training last week will limit Memmel to the uneven bars when the United States begins competition Sunday.

“It’s kind of painful, but I’m used to it being a gymnast,” she said. “I know I have to deal with certain things and with each dismount, I get a little more confident with it. I’ll be ready.”

The United States won the team title at last year’s world championships without Memmel, who was recovering from a shoulder injury. With Memmel in the mix, albeit in only one apparatus, could make the Americans even stronger.

The top eight teams advance to Tuesday’s finals (Monday night in the U.S.) and the top 24 individual qualifiers advance to the all-around competition next week. Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin are expected to represent in the U.S. in the all-around.

While China will have the home-event advantage, the U.S. has the experience edge, something captain Alicia Sacramone hopes can make an impact.

“All of us have been to at least one world championships and three of us have been to three so it’s definitely great to have that experience under our belts and we know how to deal with the pressure situations,” she said. “That might be tough for China because they haven’t been in the same type of situations. Who knows how they’ll deal with that kind of stress.”

In a pressure situation at trials earlier this summer, Memmel earned a standing ovation after her floor exercise routine. It was on the floor that she was injured last Saturday during a third pass when she jammed her ankle.

“It was a scary thought,” she said. “Of course, the first thing you do is evaluate how bad it is and ask yourself if I could do my best performance, and that’s what I want to do because the team has the same goal in mind.”

Said Memmel’s father and coach, Andrew: “I knew by the way she got up, I thought, ‘OK, this is not going to be fun.’ But she’s had pain before and it’s how you deal with it - hold your head high or go home.”

After the injury, father had a chat with daughter, who was understandably distraught.

“I had to give her a reality talk - I told her, ‘This is what it is, honey,’” Andrew Memmel said. “She had to [deal with it] really quickly. We’re at the Olympics. There’s no time for crying. You have to get in and do your job because she has five other girls who are depending on her.”

On Sunday, Memmel returned to the uneven bars, doing a full routine without the dismount. By Monday, she was landing well.

Memmel, 20, has been dealing with injuries for nearly two years.

In 2005, she was the globe’s best gymnast, winning the all-around title at world championships. But at the 2006 event, she sustained a serious right shoulder injury that required surgery. She missed the American victory last year and only returned in early June.

“I lost everything - I had no muscle left,” she said. “It took a lot of effort to lift my arm and that was very difficult. I would get excited when I would lift in and then I would say, ‘I’m pathetic. Of course I should be able to do this.’

“It took a long time. Once I was able to do some stuff, it went a little bit quicker.”

Memmel, who lives in suburban Milwaukee, returned for the Visa Championships in June and had to show national team boss Martha Karolyi she was ready at trials. She was named to the team after a mid-July training camp.

Memmel had to watch the U.S. win the world title last year; she wants to be a part of a gold medal title.

“It’s a great place that we’re in right now,” she said. “[The U.S.] winning worlds last year has made us push even higher to maintain where we’re at. It’s cool to say we’re world champions and the rest of the world has to catch up with us.”

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