Memmel, Sacramone, Peszek earn spots on U.S. women's gymnastics team

NEW WAVERLY, Texas -- Now it's official: Chellsie Memmel, Alicia Sacramone and Samantha Peszek are going to the Beijing Olympics. And they're bringing Bridget Sloan with them.

Considered all but locks after strong showings at last month's nationals and Olympic trials, Memmel, Peszek and Sacramone looked even better Saturday night to earn spots on the U.S. women's gymnastics team. Sloan, the alternate on last year's world championship team, upgraded herself with an impressive performance at the two-day selection camp.

The four join Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, who secured spots with their 1-2 finish at trials, on the last U.S. team to be finalized.

Now it's on to Beijing, where the Americans will be favorites to add Olympic gold to the one they won at last year's world championships.

"We don't even want to be Olympians. We want to be Olympic champions," Peszek said, her nails painted gold.

Their biggest competition will come from the home team, China. World champs in 2006 and runners-up last year, the Chinese have made no secret that they desperately want to win gold at home. Romania, Russia and Australia also are expected to contend for a medal.

"I am very happy with this team. Very, very happy," national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. "We know we'll have obstacles we have to pass, because it's hard to fight with the home team. We have to choose the toughest team, because we need the toughest girls because it will not be an easy job."

Jana Bieger, Ivana Hong and Corrie Lothrop were named alternates.

Earlier in the day, defending Olympic champion Paul Hamm showed he's recovered enough from his broken hand to compete in Beijing.

Memmel, the 2005 world champion whose comeback from a devastating shoulder injury has been the feel-good story of the summer, and Peszek finished third and fourth at nationals and trials. Sacramone has been the Americans' backbone the last four years, one of the best in the world on floor and vault. Had the full Olympic team been named after trials, national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said the three would have been on it.

But Karolyi likes to wait as long as possible to ensure she is taking the best and healthiest team to the Olympics, so 10 women trooped down to her ranch for one last competition, hoping to use Friday's all-around and Saturday's event finals to make a good impression.

"What I said at trials, that was the truth. They just needed to prove they are at the same level they were at," Karolyi said. "It's almost like we had one spot to fill."

If anyone questions Karolyi's reasoning, they only needed to look at Shayla Worley, who watched Saturday's competition from the bleachers, crutches at her side and a big black boot on her right leg.

"It hurts. My heart hurts worse," said Worley, who had a strong shot to make the team until she broke her right fibula during warm-ups for Friday's all-around competition. "It's still setting in. I'm still hoping I'll wake up and it's a dream or a nightmare. It's devastating.

"As long as USA wins, it's all good."

Indeed, as the competition wound down, it was like a Team USA lovefest. While Peszek, Sacramone, Johnson and Chelsea Davis got ready for the final event, the balance beam, the rest of the girls gathered on the sidelines to cheer them on.

After Peszek, the second-last competitor of the day, landed, Johnson greeted her with a big hug, and she was quickly joined by the rest of the girls. When Sacramone finished, Peszek grabbed her in such a fierce bearhug Sacramone almost fell off the podium.

"It feels good. It's a good feeling," Sacramone said, still smiling. "It definitely has not sunk in yet."

Even though Memmel, Peszek and Sacramone's places were considered secure, they still had to meet Karolyi's exacting standards.

Memmel had a little scare Friday, giving herself whiplash when she bounced out of bounds on floor. After skipping her next two events, she came back with one of the better balance beam routines of the day. But she saved her best for Saturday.

Uneven bars is a critical event for the Americans -- the Chinese have two girls who can put up scores over 17 -- and only Liukin does them better than Memmel. Showing off her trademark power, she appeared to be floating as she moved from bar to bar. When she flipped into a handstand on the high bar, she came to a dead stop, as still as a statue, her legs perfectly pointed.

Though she took a step on her dismount, she earned a 15.9 -- a score topped only by Liukin in the two-day competition.

"This is definitely great," Memmel said, her eyes watery. "I don't know what to feel right now. The last four years have been a lot of work, but it's definitely worth it."

Sacramone started the competition on floor, one of her signature events. Her personality is about twice as big as she is, and every bit of it shows on the floor as she tumbles with attitude and does her dance moves with sass and spunk. She had a small stumble on her third tumbling pass, but it was a minor error and Sacramone was clearly pleased.

She got a hug from Peszek's coach, and traded fist bumps with Memmel's father and coach, Andy.

"It's just like a big sigh of relief," Sacramone said. "I'm just so happy."

Peszek isn't the most spectacular gymnast, but she's got something just as valuable: consistency. Whether on balance beam, uneven bars, floor exercise or vault, she does every routine with polish and confidence. When a wobble or bobble can be the difference between silver and gold, that's invaluable.

Sloan was perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend. But she, too, was a model of consistency, and she has the beautiful lines and precision that international judges love.

After punching her ticket to Beijing, her decision earlier this year to skip driver's education in favor of more practice time seems like a good one.

"I would much rather have not driven and go to the Olympics," Sloan said.