2008 Olympic artistic gymnastics silver medal-winning teammates Alicia (neé Sacramone) Quinn and Chellsie Memmel now have something else in common: an unexpected desire to help lead the national team for which they previously competed.
The duo comprise two-thirds of a newly formed and announced U.S. women’s gymnastics leadership team. Quinn, the strategic lead, and Memmel, the technical lead, are joined by Dan Baker, the developmental lead.
“I haven't felt compelled back to the sport like this since I decided to come back for 2012,” said Quinn Monday (13 June) during a media availability. “Obviously, when I competed in Beijing, I had not the best showing. I walked away from the sport. I was like, deuces. I do not want to do anything, so being drawn back, I haven't felt that way in a long time. That was what initially made me consider applying.”
For Memmel, who had returned to training during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in the gym owned and operated by her family and competed at last year’s U.S. championships, the leadership role was not something she saw coming as recently as the start of the year.
“I will be honest, it wasn't something that I was thinking of in the beginning of the year, but then just things kind of changed for me and I thought it could be a good transition into a new role for me,” said Memmel.
Two things changed for the 33-year-old. First, though she loved training for competitive gymnastics again, her body, she admits, wasn’t holding up in a way that would allow her to practice the way she wanted.
Then, Annie Heffernon, vice president of women’s program for USA Gymnastics, approached the 2005 world all-around champion to ask if she had considered applying for the job. Heffernon, says Memmel, told her that many had been suggesting her for the position.
“Annie reached out to me and saying that my name had been brought up my multiple people to consider taking one of these roles,” explained Memmel. “And like I said, I hadn't really thought about it. And then I stopped and thought about it for... It was more than a week. It was over a week of thinking about it, talking to my husband about it, talking to my family about it and just like, you know, wondering if it would be a good fit for me, a good fit for our family.
“A lot of thought just went into it before I even decided to submit a resume,” she continued, “because I know how big of a job it is.”
The duo are two of Team USA’s most successful gymnasts, with Memmel’s world all-around crown ending an 11-year drought in the event while Quinn’s 10 world medals are the most of an American gymnast other than Simone Biles.
Both are under no allusions about the pressure they’ll face in the role and the scrutiny that comes with it, especially as USA Gymnastics continues to try to turn the page after hundreds of women came forward to say that they had been sexually assaulted by its former team doctor.
“I was a little bit even scared to think about what it would be like approaching USA Gymnastics in this role, which, you know, isn't the most desirable role because it comes with a lot of heat,” admitted Quinn.
The U.S. women had dominated the sport ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, having claimed every world and Olympic title since 2011. But Biles’ withdrawal from the women’s team final to priortise her mental health and, some say, blind spots to the way the rules would be applied internationally, especially as it relates to artistry, opened the door for a surging ROC team to take gold.
As the technical lead, Memmel, a brevet-rated judge since 2013, will work to make sure U.S. athletes and coaches know the best elements to develop and include in their exercises and to fully understand how to best navigate the complicated rules that govern gymnastics.
That includes trying to avoid the pitfalls that surprised them in Tokyo.
“That is definitely going to be a part of my job… understanding the code, understanding the direction that it's moving,” said Memmel. “I'm not putting the blame on anyone, but I also just remember our judging test right after 2016, and they came in, and it was so heavily like ingrained to us and presented to us that artistry was going to be a huge factor in the next codes.
"I know we've been doing a better job sending more judges out," she continued, "but getting the feedback when the judges are going to other countries, feedback from the other judges, is also going to be crucial."
Quinn’s focus, she says, will be making sure the athletes have the resources – and information – to reach their full potential.
“I would like to think that I am the one who's kind of like leveling the playing field. I will be the person that they can come talk to you," said Quinn. "My goal is to have a sit down with each athlete and coach every camp to give a check in, so they know where they stand, they know what they need to work on, and they know what they need to do to improve or to increase their chances of getting picked for a team.”
A certified personal trainer, Quinn says she will also look at modernizing training practices, including revamping the team’s warmup, the physical demand of two-a-day camp workouts and physical abilities testing, which has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades.
But beyond the field of play, both Quinn and Memmel share the goal of improving a program that many in the wake of scandal have criticised as being too focused on winning medals.
“My goal, yes, is to get them to the best level of gymnastics they can be but I want to help shape who they are as people,” said Quinn. “And so when they walk away from elite gymnastics, they were like, ‘Man, that was a great experience. People actually cared about me, not just my gymnastics, but me as a person.’”