NEEDHAM, Mass. Update at 2:45 p.m.: Aly Raisman placed fourth in the Women’s Individual All-Around competition. Her fellow teammate, Gabby Douglas, won first place in this competition.
On Thursday Needham native Aly Raisman will compete for an individual all-around gold medal in gymnastics at the London Olympics. The 18-year-old will do routines on the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor.
As captain of the U.S. team, Raisman has already led the team to gold. On Thursday, she will be competing alone. But she won’t really be alone. It seems all of Needham and thousands of other Massachusetts residents will be watching closely and cheering her on.
Exxcel Gymnastics in Newton is where it all began for Raisman. When I visited the other day, there were two dozen Aly wannabes flipping on balance beams, jumping on mats, and swinging on uneven bars. All of them want what Aly has: an Olympic Gold medal.
Eleven-year-old Julie Schoen is one of them. “It’s kind of exciting that she worked with the coaches that I work with now and that I could someday be like her,” Julie said.
Julie is already a committed gymnast, spending 30 hours a week in this gym over the summer and 18 hours during the school year. Julie says Raisman is showing her how to stay focused under pressure.
“She’s done really well because most people weren’t expecting her to do as well as she did and it’s been really cool to see,” Julie said. “Like even under pressure she does good things.”
Though Raisman has since moved to another gym in Burlington, she’s come back to her roots at the Exxcel gym to talk to aspiring gymnasts such as Julie Schoen.
Around Needham there are handmade signs encouraging and congratulating Raisman. One big banner hangs over the Wingate nursing home, where Brenda Diaz is the director of community relations.
“The residents are so excited,” Diaz said. “They’ve been watching the Olympics and most of our residents are Needham natives.” Now, she said, “They are excited to be able to root for one of their own.”
“We’re thrilled for her and her family,” said Jack McQuillan, who runs Taylor Stationary in Needham Center. He says Raisman’s performance in London has been the buzz of the town — and sometimes it’s hard to tune out.
“When she won the gold we had a customer come in and very excitedly tell all of us behind the counter that they won the gold and we were all sort of in shock and surprise because we wanted to wait and watch it on TV ourselves,” McQuillan said.
Across the street in Treat Cupcake Bar two preteen girls loaded gummy bears on top of cupcakes.
“I thought she was really really good. The whole team was really good. It’s amazing what they do,” said Claire McCallum.
“I thought she like really aced it. She did really well,” added her friend Sophia Icke.
Both girls say they’ll be watching Raisman Thursday in the individual competition.
Her hometown of Needham is so caught up in the excitment, it’s opening the town hall for a live viewing party as Aly Raisman goes for gold, again.