Needham Gymnast An Olympic Hopeful
As a gymnast, Aly Raisman sets herself apart with her power moves. At the 2012 American Cup, which was broadcast on NBC, she performs a tumbling pass that most people in the world would have said is not possible. Raisman runs into a series of aerial somersaults that ends with a punch layout, which means she flips over fully extended, like she’s a pancake being flipped. It’s almost like she’s floating.
If she nails it at the Olympic trials at the end of June, she’ll have a very good chance of taking one of the five spots on the U.S. gymnastics team.
“I’m excited. I’m ready for it to happen,” Raisman said. “I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life. [I] want it to come now.”
“She’s very self-motivated,” said her mother, Lynn Raisman. As the oldest of four children, Aly has drive and determination in everything she does.
“I probably would say since middle school, the gymnastics, she’s given up a lot: there’s school dances, activities and sleepovers,” Lynn said. “Gymnastics has taken a priority in her life for a really long time, and that comes from her; if it didn’t she would have quit a long time ago.”
Raisman was only 2 years old in 1996 when the U.S. women’s gymnastics team last took the gold. When Raisman set her sights on the Olympics, her mother found an old VCR tape of the golden team and gave it to her.
“I used to watch the ’96 Olympics over and over again, just in my room I would replay it day after day after day,” Raisman said. “And I was literally obsessed with it. I could memorize all the scores and I could tell you who was going next and all that stuff. I was so inspired by it.”
Even though she’s been tumbling since she was a 2-year-old, Raisman only recently quit Needham High School to become a professional gymnast, devoting herself full-time to gymnastics. She’s completing her senior year online, but most days she spends seven hours at the gym. She said the key to tumbling is conditioning and not just weightlifting.
Her training involves climbing a rope just using her arms with 10-pound weights on her legs. The result is a very powerful upper body.
“I’m really strong,” she said. “I look really strong, definitely compared to normal girls. I’m proud of it, because it’s a lot of hard work to get that, it doesn’t just come overnight.”
Raisman is an all-around gymnast, which means she competes on the floor, the parallel bars, the vault and the balance beam. She’s working in the same gym and with the same coach Alicia Sacramone uses. Sacramone, 25, is from Winchester. In the 2008 Olympics she won a team silver medal. Raisman said they’re friends and see each other every day at the gym.
“I guess people say we have similar gymnastics styles,” Raisman said. “People think we’re similar on floor and vault. It’s an honor to be compared to her because she’s such a great gymnast and has accomplished so much in gymnastics. Also, people think we look alike, they get us confused all the time.”
But these Massachusetts friends will be in in competition for spots on the U.S. Olympic team.
At practice at Brestyan’s American Gymnastics Club in Burlington, Raisman repeatedly practices her dismount from the balance beam. Coach Mihai Brestyan stands a good distance away, quietly giving pointers.
“But the takeoff? Where is the takeoff,” he quietly asked Raisman.
Brestyan, who’s Romanian, said Raisman is Olympic caliber because she is self-critical.
“To be successful, you cannot be all the time pleased with yourself, you need to be critical,” Brestyan said. “If you think, ‘Today I am good enough,’ tomorrow someone else better than you [sic].”
Raisman doesn’t want anyone to be better than her. She wants a gold medal. But like any teenager, she’s not entirely focused on the gold — she’s also thinking about the prom.
“My prom dress is brown and it’s really different, because most people don’t wear brown to prom,” Raisman said. She lights up when talking about the prom and fashion.
Raisman said she wants to eventually go to college and study fashion. But right now, she’s focused on getting a spot on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.