Aly Raisman did not come into the Olympic Games with the level of hype that her fellow all-around rivals, teammates, and friends Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas did. Raisman had been consistently one of the best gymnasts in the world for the past couple of years, but that was not quite good enough to be considered one of the favorites for Team USA in London. Wieber was the reigning world champion, and Douglas was an up-and-coming star who had recently won the Olympic trials competition by defeating Wieber.
Raisman, who finished fourth in the all-around at worlds in 2011, was not expected to do much more than help the team in the all-around and possibly medal on floor, while providing leadership as the team captain.
Looking back, it is obvious that Aly Raisman was severely underestimated. And now, even with teammate Gabby Douglas taking home the all-around gold medal, an argument can be made that nobody on the “Fierce Five” gymnastics team was more impressive throughout the two weeks of competition than Raisman.
The path to becoming the first American gymnast ever to win three medals with at least two being gold in the same Olympics did not come smoothly. In fact, the emotional roller coaster that Raisman rode throughout the Olympic Games was just about as bumpy as it can get, filled with thrilling highs and heartbreaking lows, that seemed to teeter-totter back and forth on a daily basis.
Unexpectedly, on the first day of competition, Raisman was better than the heavy favorite, Jordyn Wieber, knocking her out of one of the United States’ two spots for the all-around final. At a time when she should have been able to freely celebrate, her close friend and teammate was sobbing because her dreams of Olympic gold were ruined. It was one of the most bittersweet and in a way, awkward, scenes that you will ever see in sports.
Two days later, Raisman finished a brilliant floor routine that was going to clinch the Americans a gold medal in the team competition. Fighting back the tears of joy after landing her final tumbling passes, Aly was now the captain of a gold-medal team. Her Olympic games could not have been going much better.
Fast forward another two days to the individual all-around competition that the entire country and media believed Wieber should have been apart of, instead of Raisman. The pressure on Aly to medal and prove herself as an all-around gymnast was immense, but unfortunately it just was not her day. A few uncharacteristic bobbles on beam led to a bad storm, and she was only good on floor when she needed to be great, leading her to a tie for third place. One less mistake and the individual all-around bronze medal was hers, but instead she would settle for nothing, the tiebreaker favoring Aliya Mustafina and leaving Raisman empty handed.
After being on top of the world on Tuesday, Aly Raisman's Olympic experience could have turned to disappointment as soon as Thursday. But this kid was not going to let one setback ruin her Olympic experience. Despite admitting some disappointment, the captain continued to show commendable maturity in her post-event interviews when she gave the following quote:
“I'm really happy for Gabby. She's been working really hard so I'm really excited for her, but it's definitely really frustrating because we (Mustafina) tied for third place. I was so close. But being fourth in the world is definitely something to be proud of."
It appeared for a second this afternoon that Raisman was going to have another disappointment to overcome when she was originally scored as fourth place in the balance beam final.
It was going to happen again—fourth place—just like at worlds in 2011 in the all-around—just like the all-around event at the Olympics a few days before.
Everything changed when an inquiry was made and the judges asked to reevaluate the D-Score that was given. They ruled that she was originally underscored, that the level of the difficulty in her routine was high enough to secure a tie with Catalina Ponor of Romania. And since her E-score was higher this time, the tiebreaker went to her. Aly Raisman won her first individual medal of the Olympics.
The leader of the best team in the Olympics finally was able to accomplish something for herself. But it was a victory of the slimmest of margins, and the overrule by the judges was bound to be questioned by critics, taking away some of the glory that came with that medal.
Raisman knew that she needed to be brilliant on the floor event. She knew you can only make a final impression once. She needed to nail her final routine, to cement her legacy of a gymnast and to cement the legacy of this incredible team that they called the “Fierce Five”.
She was not just brilliant. Brilliance on floor is normal for Aly. This afternoon, she was more than brilliant. This afternoon, Aly Raisman was the best she's ever been.
There were still five gymnasts to go after she was done, but everybody knew that Aly secured the gold medal with her routine. And it was not even close. Raisman won the event by a whopping .4 points, with her best ever score on the event, 15.6.
With her second gold, Aly Raisman in an instant became one of the most decorated American gymnasts of all-time. The girl who was overshadowed by many of her teammates going into London finished the Olympics with more medals than anyone.
If you follow the girls on Twitter, listen to their interviews or watch how they interact both in and outside of the meets, you can tell that there is nobody that garners more respect than Aly Raisman. Maroney's screams of joy could be heard throughout the arena this afternoon after Raisman's performance.
She is the leader. She is the captain. And she deserves the most credit for the remarkable run that these five girls went on these past two weeks.
So it is only fitting that their run will end on a near perfect routine by their captain. Aly Raisman was not going to let it end any other way.