"I am stronger."
August 3, 2020 3:39 PM   Subscribe

At a time when women's artistic gymnastics is undergoing significant upheaval as gymnasts break their silence worldwide to discuss abusive training environments, causing fans and participants alike to question what the future of the sport can possibly look like, Chellsie Memmel, a 32-year-old mother of two from Wisconsin, has emerged from retirement and announced her intent to return to elite competition.

Memmel, 2005 world all-around champion and 2008 Olympic team silver medalist, retired in 2012 after a series of injuries derailed her attempt to make the 2012 Olympic team. In 2018, after the birth of her daughter, she began to working on a weekly "Chellsie Challenge," short bursts of conditioning exercises she and her coach father Andy had put together in an effort to regain her strength and tone; these exercises, which Memmel began to upload to her YouTube channel in 2019, soon gave way to new attempts at gymnastics skills she hadn't tried since her retirement.

On July 31st, 2020, in one of her Adult Gymnastics Journey videos on YouTube, Memmel confessed to her father that "it's time to admit this is a comeback." If she secures a spot for the Tokyo Olympics, she would be part of an elite grouping with 45-year-old gymnastics legend Oksana Chusovitina (UZB) and potentially Aliya Mustafina (RUS) as women's artistic gymnasts who are competing in Tokyo after becoming parents.

The US can only send a four-member team to Tokyo in this quad, with Simone Biles being presumed as a lock for one of the spots; however, there are two spots available for individual competitors. While vault and floor specialist Jade Carey has all but sewn up one of these slots due to her participation in World Cup competitions over the last two years, Memmel could still have an outside chance at the remaining individual Olympic berth.
posted by angeline (17 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
This is awesome. I've been hurting hard for my care about sports only once every 2 years coverage and a couple weeks back realized that there are hours and hours and hours of gymnastics competitions on YouTube. I've been going back through time (for instance the 1996 Olympics trials are on there and everyone either has a bowl cut or poofy bangs, it's fantastic) and just watched Chellsie for the first time since her Olympics last weekend.

Gymnastics is so problematic but these women and girls are incredible and their hard work and abilities should be celebrated. I'm excited to see Chellsie try to come back!
posted by phunniemee at 4:38 PM on August 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ah, so cool! I just went down a rabbit hole of watching videos on her youtube channel and I hope she makes the team.
posted by mogget at 7:09 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is there a difference between artistic gymnastics and regular gymnastics? Or is this what they call all gymnastics? I was expecting this was a post about the rhythmic gymnastics (as I'm not super familiar with the terminology).
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:23 AM on August 4, 2020

LizBoBiz- 'gymnastics' covers a whole host of competitive sports, including Artistic Gymnastics- what most people think of first when they hear 'gymnastics' - (vault, floor, beam, uneven bars for women and still rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, vault, pommel horse, and floor for men); Rhythmic Gymnastics (only women at the Olympics, includes ribbon, ball, hoop, and clubs); plus other sports like trampolining, acrobatics, and tumbling. Even parkour (freestyle tricks using the outdoor built environment) is a type of gymnastics.
posted by cilantro at 2:49 AM on August 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I really don't like the term 'elite' anything in sports. It seems like a recent coinage and one that's problematic - not least at a time where we have high levels of obesity. It throws shade on other participants and isn't helpful for the practitioners either as it seems to be a way to justify bad behaviour.

I have two questions. What's wrong with professional instead of elite, and am I right in saying it's a recent development. If so can anyone shed light onto the why, how and when this usage took over?
posted by treblekicker at 4:56 AM on August 4, 2020

The use of "elite" in artistic gymnastics goes back a long way, to at least the late 1970s -- see this Sports Illustrated article from 1978.
posted by JanetLand at 5:16 AM on August 4, 2020

Elite just means competing/performing at the highest level, whether amateur or professional, so it isn't the same as saying professional and I can't think of a reason that kind of use would be problematic since it is referencing what is recognized as the top level for whatever field is being discussed. People can be paid to do something and not be considered elite in that sense and people can compete without pay and be considered among the best of that skill set.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:55 AM on August 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

re: Elite vs professional (in the context of competitive sports): For me, professional implies you get paid, elite implies you are in the very top of your field. There is overlap but it's not equivalent. I think to get rid of "elite" you need to get rid of competition and ranking.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 5:57 AM on August 4, 2020

What's wrong with professional instead of elite, and am I right in saying it's a recent development.
I believe that in gymnastics, elite is a technical term. Elite gymnasts compete in elite competitions, which are scored differently than competitions at the level right below. Professional athletes get paid, and they may or may not be elite athletes. In the US, a lot of top gymnasts don't go professional, because once you've been paid, you're no longer eligible to compete in college gymnastics.

This makes me really happy, partly because she and her father seem to have such a nice rapport, and partly because she seems to be enjoying herself.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:24 AM on August 4, 2020

Chusovitina's career spans training up in the Soviet system, CIS and Unified teams, her native Uzbekistan and competing for Germany. I'd really love a cold war and sport memoir from her.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 8:49 AM on August 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

This is really great and it is a much needed challenge to the toxic environment of elite gymnastics.

Someone upthread mentioned parkour as a type of gymnastics, and yes it seems related, but the culture is very different and people in the parkour community are none too pleased that the gymnastics organizations are trying to make a move on their sport.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:18 PM on August 4, 2020

In artistic gymnastics "elite" is a specific designation of skill level. In the US, gymnastics competitions have levels from Level 1 to Level 10 and then Elite. In gymnastics, this is not a recently used term.

"Professional," in US gymnastics specifically means having been paid. A gymnast can be Elite and/or professional. Because most US Elite gymnasts are pre-college aged, the decision to accept money (and go professional) is fraught because of NCAA rules. Recent US Olympians Maddie Kocian and Kyla Ross both notably decided not to go professional so that they could compete in college. This is rare. (Most high-level NCAA gymnasts were Level 10 or Elite before going to college. None are professional. Although this maybe changing with the recent decision to allow NCAA athletes receive compensation for their likeness.)
posted by mcduff at 12:43 PM on August 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

Professional athletes used to be barred from the Olympic Games, too, though that rule was relaxed in the 1970s and 1980s, and removed completely by the 1990s.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:58 PM on August 4, 2020

Today Chellsie began working on low bar to high bar transitions with her dad... so far not going quite as well as her beam and vault work, heh. She’ll get there, though.

(link goes to her dad’s IG, where along with gymnastics posts, you’ll find very large fish and the occasional interesting stick bug, god love you Coach Andy)
posted by angeline at 11:40 AM on August 5, 2020

And we have an Amanar! Which she has never done before, and it looks pretty good for a first try. Wow!
posted by angeline at 5:46 PM on August 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I keep hearing about how important it is for athletes to stay hydrated, so I don't know how all these gymnasts are able to do it with the ever-present dryness of Coach Andy's humor.
posted by pykrete jungle at 6:40 AM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Coach Andy is becoming my favorite part of this comeback.

(also I guess there’s a reason they’re all toting around those 32 ounce HydroFlasks 😃)
posted by angeline at 12:47 PM on August 13, 2020

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