Gymnastics Is a Brutal Sport. Does It Have to Be?

During the first week of Wisconsin’s Covid shutdown in March 2020, Chellsie Memmel was disinfecting the equipment in her parents’ New Berlin gym when she got the urge to try a double layout. Memmel is the seventh-most-decorated female gymnast in U.S. history, tied with the 2008 Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson. But she had not done elite gymnastics in seven years, and at 31, she was nearly twice the ideal age for an Olympic gymnast — often posited to be 16, the youngest age permitted at the Games.

Memmel braced every muscle in her body, wiped her mind clear and threw the layout. (“Throw,” the gymnastics word for “do,”

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