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At the last World Gymnastics Championships in 2003, Chellsie Memmel came off the bench as an alternate and rescued a U.S. women's team crippled by injuries and illness.
This time around, the 17-year-old uneven bars specialist from West Allis, Wis., is the veteran anchor of another talent-laden team in what could be her last hurrah on the world stage -- or her first step toward the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Memmel said a final decision on her Olympic future would be made after the 2005 World Gymnastics Championships, which begin today and wind up Sunday in Melbourne, Australia.
"I haven't completely made a final decision for that," Memmel said. "I'll talk to my parents and everyone about that after the worlds."
Memmel enjoyed her breakout year in 2003. She won five medals at the Pan American Games and was the surprise star of the 2003 worlds in Anaheim. Cast into the lineup after three teammates went to the sidelines, Memmel played a critical role as the USA won its first world championship team gold medal, and was co-gold medalist in the uneven bars.
"That year made me realize anything can happen," Memmel said. "You have to be prepared for anything."
That would include disappointment in 2004. An injury undermined her Olympic hopes last year, and she watched as an alternate as the U.S. women hauled home six medals in Athens, Greece.
Now she's the unquestioned leader of a four-woman team that isn't rebuilding after last year's Olympic success but restocking. Newcomers Nastia Liukin, the reigning national champion, and Jana Bieger join Memmel and Alicia Sacramone, another 17-year-old veteran.
"It's an ideal combination," said U.S. team coordinator Martha Karolyi. "This is how it is supposed to be."
Whether she's around or not for the 2008 Olympics, Memmel already likes what she sees. "There are a lot of strong, young athletes coming up. We'll be prepared for 2008 like we were for 2004."
Even though Memmel will turn 20 in 2008, Karolyi isn't counting her out of the mix for the Beijing Games. "She is definitely not one of those athletes who has maxed out her talent," Karolyi said. "She has much more resources and is constantly adding to her routine."
In Melbourne, Memmel will defend her uneven bars title and, along with Liukin, is a medal favorite in the all-around. The world championship format features only all-around and individual event competition.
"I definitely feel like I have a lot of experience behind me and that will definitely help my performance," Memmel said.
*Check out this week's winner of the USATODAY.com Olympic Athlete of the Week award at noon ET
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