Wed, Oct 18, 2006 - Page 19 News List

US gymnasts shake injury worries to take early lead

AFP , AARHUS, DENMARK

Reigning champions the US, led by all-around title-holder Chellsie Memmel, shrugged off injury worries to grab the provisional lead in women's qualifying at the world gymnastics championships on Monday.

The US on 243.325 points are 10.725 ahead of Olympic champions Romania (232.600) on day one of two in qualifying for the team and individual events.

Australia (231.700) are third, and challengers Russia and China were to compete yesterday.

Memmel is the only member of the 2003 world title-winning US women's team who is competing in Aarhus.

Then the Americans took the title for the first time, breaking an unbeaten record of seven-time world champions Romania going back to 1994.

And she almost didn't make it to Denmark after suffering an ankle injury last week.

The 18-year-old from Milwaukee however showed no signs of the problem as she led the all-around ahead of Italian Vanessa Ferrari and US teammate Jana Bieger.

"I had a problem with my foot and couldn't believe that it had happened again," said Memmel, who missed the 2004 Olympics because of injury.

"But stuff happens and I took it easy for a few days. I taped it up today and feel really good now," she said.

She achieved 61.350 with the 15-year-old Ferrari on 61.100 and Bieger 60.625.

Steliana Nistor and Raluca Sandra Izbasa were Romania's top all-around performers placing fifth and sixth respectively.

Despite her quest to defend her title Memmel insisted she was concentrating first on the team's effort.

"My main focus was the team tonight. After Wednesday I can think about myself," she said.

Her teammate Anastasia Liukin, the world all-around runner-up, was not so fortunate with the 17-year-old being limited to her defence of the uneven bars as she struggles to recover from an ankle sprain.

"I'm just happy to be here," said Liukin, who also won the beam at last year's worlds.

"I was really looking forward to competing when the injury happened and thought that I didn't have a chance of being here. It's just a bit disappointing to watch it from the sidelines," she said.

After the disappointment of their men's team who suffered their worst world championship result ever at the weekend, the US women powered their way through their first two rotations.

Alicia Sacramone led the vault with Liukin becoming the only woman to break the 16 mark with 16.200 on her way to a US 1-2 ahead of Memmel on the uneven bars.

But the Americans ran into trouble on their third rotation with both Ashley Priess and Natasha Kelley falling from the beam.

Sacramone, the world champion on floor, failed to qualify for the final in that event, the last one of four for the Americans as she did not complete a required dance element.

She placed eighth but with only two qualifiers per country allowed, she lost out to Memmel and Bieger.

And similarly neither Priess nor Kelley will be eligible to advance to the all-around finals, despite currently being ranked seventh and ninth respectively.

Memmel insisted the US were just warming up in their title defence.

"It's always disappointing when several of the girls have injuries. But it pulls us all together to work harder," she said.

"The team was in good form, there were just a few mistakes here and there but nothing we can't fix,"

But Ferrari is strongly placed to give Italy their first women's medal at the worlds as she leads the floor routine in addition to her second place in the all-around.

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