Photo Via NBC Olympics
The youngsters of the USA won team Gold at last October’s World Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo. They did it without their 2008 veterans, Alicia Sacramone who suffered a torn achillies and Shawn Johnson who was not quite ready, as well as Chellsie Memmel, who underwent another shoulder surgery. It was a thrilling win from an almost completely inexperienced team. But what does it mean for the veterans of 2008 who are all committed to making a run for the 2012 Olympics?
Needless to say: Tomorrow’s US Classic is going to be a big one.
The 2008 Olympic team was the most decorated in United States history to ever step onto an Olympic floor. The team was made up of Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Chellsie Memmel, Alicia Sacramone, Bridget Sloan and Samantha Peszek. Sam has since moved on to a successful collegiate career where it appears she’ll stay put. Despite how well this young 2011 team did, if I was in charge (If only), I’d take anyone from 2008 who is prepared. I believe in the veterans. They want it the most. They are here to finish the mission. I say: We let them. It worked in 1996 and it is the only thing I believe will work in 2012.
The pattern of choosing young “Hot Shot” teams with no former Olympians has failed in 2004 and 2008. Enough is enough.
I was 12 years old in 1996 and competing myself at the time. There was one very important factor to that team winning a gold medal. Half the team was made up of former Olympians or the one that got cut from the Olympic team (Borden), and they were all back with something to prove. They functioned as a unit. They were older, wiser, and no furious grip could have ripped that Gold medal out of their hands. This is the first Olympic cycle since 1993-2000 that we have Olympians returning to take something they think belongs to them. I hope that the selection committee remembers that it worked. in 1996, we were the oldest team on the floor. We were also one of the most beat up teams on floor (Romania takes that crown), but they had a fight in mind, and no one wanted it more.
Let’s take a look at team USA’s returning Olympians and where they stand now that the USA is deeper than ever.
Sloan came out swinging after the Beijing Olympics, taking the 2009 national title and the world all-around title after a fall from Rebecca Bross opened the door. However, she has rarely been seen since. Injury after injury has plagued her gymnastics. To me, though, it seems there is something else going on here. Mentally, she’s struggling to continue to live up to her 2009 level. There’s almost a lack of confidence. My money is not on Sloan to make the 2012 team outright, but she has alternate potential. With all her time away from major competition, I’d likely say she will unfortunately be a non-factor. Even with experience, she doesn’t bring anything to the depth chart that the US team can’t get elsewhere.
I started out really believing in her comeback. I felt that if she stayed healthy, she had a real shot. Johnson is solid, she’s determined, and she’s been there before. She’s got something to prove and it seemed last year that she was willing to go the distance. However, from her twitter (@ShawneyJ) and instagram (@ShawnJohnson) what’s most concerning is this kid never seems to be in the gym. With the news she’ll miss Classics, it all seems further in doubt. If she can’t get this together by Nationals, it’s over. Right now this might be more about publicity than it is a second chance. Johnson has the great benefit of being a Marta Karolyi favorite. If she can compete at Nationals (doubtful?) I can’t count her out. However, this year seems more uncertain than last year for her and no one has any idea what’s going on with this comeback.
Chellsie has earned the right to have her Olympic moment. She’s by far the most consistent gymnast America has ever produced. You never get nervous watching Memmel, because you know—she WILL hit. Every competition is just another day at the office for her. Memmel has that great mental gift that you crave for your team. That you NEED for your team. This is a woman who ripped her shoulder apart on bars in the 2006 Worlds team final—and then finished the rest of meet, landing a punch front on the beam with only one foot on, the other completely off… and didn’t fall. Bring her. She must go. Memmel, to my mind, is the key. She will get the job done and she’s here for the right reasons—to help the team.
Chellsie has the same strengths as Liukin: Bars and Beam. Yet with the announcement that five girls make the team (as opposed to six in 2008), the need for all-arounders grows greater. Memmel is a solid, absolute all-around gymnast, which works to her advantage. Something about Chellsie reminds me of Amanda Borden in 1996; the most mentally tough, but most importantly the quiet consistent member of the team who lead them off with confident first-up performances. Memmel fits that crucial bill. My prediction, though—knowing Marta—is unfortunately… alternate. (In case you couldn’t tell, I’m #TeamMemmel). An all-arounder like Gabby Douglas boasts higher start values, but I don’t trust Douglas to hit a single (and I mean a single) thing. If Memmel is healthy and we leave her at home, we’re going to leave the gold behind in London as well.
The great Liukin. I cried tears of joy when she won the all around. A really wonderful moment. There’s no denying the incredible value Nastia brings to the US Team. A hit Nastia signature Uneven Bar routine, the USA’s weakest event, will be enough to put us on a level playing field with China and Russia. Yup, she’s that good. She’s loved by the international judges and by Marta. I do, however, feel she took too much time to decide on this comeback. This Olympics may just be icing on the cake for the 2008 Olympic all-around champion. Regardless, I won’t be disappointed if she’s on the team; rather, I’ll be excited to watch her again. I will, however, grow nervous every time she takes the floor. Liukin is beautiful to watch when she hits, but she is not the most consistent gymnast. Nationals and Trials will decide it for her. Classics will likely be a wash and not a determining factor of her potential team status.
She needs to get fully healthy. Then—then she needs to upgrade. If Alicia does that, I don’t see how they can keep her off. That was…until she announced she was dropping floor. This puts her in a tricky spot. Alicia has put in the work and this time around, unlike last when she should never have been used as a lead-off on beam, she can be trusted not to make a mistake again. She’s a mental leader. A second chance well deserved, as long as the timing with this injury works out for her. But seriously, she’s gotta stop competing that double twisting yurchenko on vault and upgrade or else her spot is going to go to one of our stock Amanars. It’s that simple.
In all likelihood one or two of these veterans could go to London, with one perhaps ending up in an alternate role. There will be several devastating decisions. (And we thought 2004 was deep.) 2012 is going to be the toughest choices the selection committee has ever made with just five girls going. I’m not particularly looking forward to it. But I am looking forward to seeing them all back this season. Brace.