Chellsie Memmel's comeback comes to abrupt end; more Olympic notes
USA gymnastics lost one of its comeback stories over the weekend when Chellsie Memmel's petition for entry into the U.S. championships in St. Louis next month was rejected. Memmel, the world all-around champion in 2005, performed poorly at the U.S. Classic meet in Chicago last Saturday, falling twice on the balance beam and scoring only 11.950. The U.S. selection committee set a minimum qualifying score of 14 for gymnasts to stay in consideration for nationals, set to run from June 7-10. The Olympic trials take place in San Jose three weeks later (June 28-July 1) and the Olympic team will be chosen by a three-member committee soon after.
Memmel, 23, has battled injuries throughout her career. She helped the U.S. earn a silver medal for the U.S. in Beijing despite breaking her right foot in training prior to those Games, and last February, she underwent her second shoulder surgery in less than a year.
Others with world and Olympic experience who are attempting comebacks after layoffs from either retirement or injury include Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Alicia Sacramone, Bridget Sloan and Rebecca Bross.
U.S. women's soccer coach Pia Sundhage named her 18-member Olympic squad over the weekend and there are a lot of familiar faces. Captain Christie Rampone, 36, will be the first team member to participate in four Olympics. Defender Heather Mitts and midfielders Heather O'Reilly and Shannon Boxx will each play in their third Games. As expected, star striker Abby Wambach is on the squad after missing out on the Beijing Games because of a broken leg.
Six of the team's players will see their first Olympic action. Forward Sydney Leroux, 22 -- the only member of the squad who did not make the country's World Cup team last year -- will make her Olympic debut along with Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Kelly O'Hara, Amy LePeilbet and Becky Sauerbrunn.
U.S. women have won three gold medals and a silver since women's soccer was added to the Olympic program in 1996.
U.S. Olympic diving hopeful Brittany Viola may be terrific on the board, but she says she'd have trouble following in her father's footsteps. The 25-year-old daughter of former major league pitcher Frank Viola simply does not have a pitcher's arm. "Terrible," she said, modestly. "I am the worst." As evidence, the younger Viola points to the day when she was called upon to throw out the honorary first pitch before a college game between Florida State and the University of Miami, her alma mater.
"It bounced a few times before going 10 feet wide of home plate," Viola said. "People would watch me throw and when they found out about my dad, they'd say, 'You're related? No, can't be.'"
Frank won the World Series MVP with the Minnesota Twins in 1987, the year Brittany was born. The White Sox drafted his son, Frank Viola III, in 2004. And while his daughter won't be drafted anytime soon, she has had a terrific career as a platform specialist. Viola narrowly missed making the Olympic team in 2004 and was an alternate on the team in 2008. She represented the U.S. at the world championships in 2009 and 2011.
Kenya's David Rudisha believes his U.S. debut June 9 at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York will produce the fastest 800 meters ever run on U.S. soil. Rudisha recently told reporters that the 1:42.58 posted by Norway's Vebjorn Rodal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta is within his reach.
"What I'll be focusing on in New York is something like 1:42, and that will be good progression for my training," he said.
Two years ago, Rudisha lowered the existing world record to 1:41.01 The Olympic victory for Rodal was the only major triumph in his otherwise unspectacular career, and it came with an asterisk: Kenyan-born Wilson Kipketer was the defending world champ and previous world-record holder in the event, but Kipketer had applied for Danish citizenship and in 1996 was not yet a full citizen of his new country. Brother Colm O'Connell, who coaches Rudisha in Kenya, also coached Kipketer, making the comparisons between the pair undeniable.
In important tune-ups for the Olympics, the U.S. men's water polo team dropped a tough 8-7 decision to Croatia on Saturday, and then scored a rare 12-10 victory against Hungary on Sunday at Newport Harbor High (Calif.). The victory was the U.S.'s first over Hungary in 10 years. Led by Tony Azevedo, who a day earlier had his game-tying bid turned away at the buzzer, the U.S. scored a season-high 10 power-play goals against the team that has won gold at the last three Olympics. "We're right there with the best teams in the world," said Azevedo. "It's just the little things, the little mistakes that we fix, and we're the best team in the world."
When does a fifth-place finish in a "B" final of a random World Cup race mean something? When a U.S. Olympic berth is at stake. By finishing in fifth in the men's K-1 200-meter "B" final, Tim Hornsby finished three places ahead of countryman Ryan Dolan to earn the team's one Olympic berth in sprint kayaking. "It's a race of a lifetime," Hornsby said.
Australia's Sam Willoughby and France's Magalie Porrier rode to victory at the BMX world championships in Birmingham, U.K. last weekend. Arielle Martin, the top U.S. female finisher, placed fourth, and David Herman, the top U.S. male finisher, placed fifth. Those results ensured them a place on the U.S. Olympic team. The winners of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on June 16 in Chula Vista, Calif., will also earn spots on the team. The London Games will mark the second Olympics with BMX on the program.