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Raisman brings needed consistency
Six weeks ago, shortly before she qualified for the 2012 London Games as a member of the US women’s gymnastics team, Aly Raisman said something astounding.
“I’ve never been cocky,” the 18-year-old said. “Even right now I don’t like to talk about the Olympics.”
Doesn’t like to talk about the Olympics? The would-be Olympian was sitting at a podium in a hotel room in Dallas at something called the Olympic Media Summit, its very purpose to get aspiring athletes to talk about the Summer Games. Reporters hung on her answers, leaning closer to hear as their recorders took down every word.
Around her were the bright lights and aspiring heroes of these games: Nastia Liukin and her five medals, including a gold for the all-around, across the room; Shawn Johnson and her star persona not far away; Jordyn Wieber, the blazing talent and potential Next Big Thing at the front of the room, swamped; and more athletes, from a variety of sports, ringing a ballroom talking nonstop about London, London, London.
Yet there was Raisman, quiet, humble and so clearly under the radar. She isn’t glamorous. She’s not the next “it” girl. After London, she probably won’t be selling Subway subs or charming America on "Dancing with the Stars" or yukking it up on Letterman. But she is the kind of slow-and-steady-wins-the-race gymnast the Americans need to compete for gold in London.
“When you look at Aly in particular, she’s become the veteran of this new generation, and I think she’s learned from Alicia (Sacramone) that she can have a very important leadership role on this team,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. “She was very instrumental in keeping the team together emotionally and mentally last year when we lost Alicia, and Aly really stepped into that role very well and very naturally.
“She’s emerged as a very solid component and backbone of this group of girls.”
Solid, not a star. A component, not a headliner. The backbone rather than the flash.
That’s Aly Raisman, whose quiet consistency could be a big part of the reason someone else — Wieber, perhaps, or Gabby Douglas — could return home as the flashy face of a USA team that takes gold in London.
A bronze medalist in floor exercise at the 2011 worlds and consistently solid all-arounder, Raisman finished third in the all-around standings at the Olympic Trials in San Jose this month with a 120.950 score.
Liukin stole the hearts of the crowd, bowing out of Olympic competition with grace and star power. Wieber remained in the mix as America’s great talent with a second-place finish, and Douglas vied for that position — and vaulted herself closer to star status — by posting the highest score.
And Raisman simply plugged away. She was steady through every routine. Her highest score came on the floor exercise (15.500), but she also was reliably good on the balance beam (15.400) and vault (15.300).
Cue the direct, not-splashy, steady-as-she-goes quote: “Right now, for me personally, it’s better to be consistent. That’s definitely what Martha (Karolyi, US coach) is looking for.”
It’s what the entire team is looking for, even if America doesn’t end up noticing.
Six weeks later, six weeks after not wanting to discuss the games she had been sent to Dallas to discuss, she stood in San Jose and let her mind embrace the beauty of what she’d achieved: Olympic athlete.
She got excited about those double-decker buses in London. About meeting the other athletes. About having watched the 2008 Games and having felt inspiration gush through her that propelled her to become an Olympian. At that time she was on vacation in Maine. This time, this summer, she’ll be seeking gold rather than relaxation.
What a journey, quiet though it’s been in comparison to the sports’ flashier stars, from vacationer to Olympian.
“That was the last time I had a vacation, watching that,” she said. “I was just really inspired, seeing all them compete. It was so exciting. I really knew I wanted to be there. That summer was the most fun summer ever because me and my teammates, we were so inspired. We learned all these new skills, and we were having so much fun, and we wanted to copy everything we were seeing.”
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