London 2012: Aly Raisman Has Last Laugh for Uber-Talented US Olympic Gymnastics
Never underestimate the stubbornness of a teenager. That’s the message U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman sent the Olympic world this week.
Raisman was bumped from the medal stand, bruised when underscored; but this calm, cool, collected young woman refused to give in. She fought for her spot in history, and in the 11th hour came away victorious.
The U.S. team has confirmed the fledgling days displayed generations ago are over. No longer will there be only one standout member of Team USA. There will be a grip bag full.
Alexandra Raisman along with teammates Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney have rammed this point home.
Not the obvious pre-Olympic-hype starlet, let’s recap Raisman’s hurdles and triumphs up to and through the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Quiet Star Rising
Raisman has always performed well. She’s the kind of gymnast you want on your team—hard working, dependable, affable. What some coaches may consider to be a dream kid, Mihai Brestyan pushed her out of the comfort zone, some days demanding more than Raisman thought she could supply. A mixture of encouragement and tough love worked for the pair.
By 2011, the Needham, Massachusetts high school student was racking up medals. Never one prone to attract global media attention, she quietly rose through the ranks.
2012: Year of Reckoning
2012 brought a renewed determination, and Raisman’s scores proved it.
Aided by higher difficulty scores (D-score), Raisman grabbed all-around silver at both the AT&T America Cup and Italy’s City of Jesolo Trophy.
At the Visa National Championships she broke away from the pack to claim all-around bronze as well as balance beam and floor exercise gold. She repeated the effort at the U.S. Olympic Trials. No doubt, this girl is consistent.
For her to have been excluded from the 2012 U.S. Olympic team would have taken an apparatus disaster or a major injury. Not only did Raisman make the U.S. team, she secured her place in athletic history. Her Olympic dream was in the making.
London Olympics Qualifying Round
When the yanks showed up in London, chatter surrounded the opportunities for Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber. They were touted as a dynamic duo, minus the masks. Meanwhile, Raisman continued to push toward making her experience count.
Opening night for the women found Wieber struggling, Douglas flying high and Raisman working her way up the scoring ladder. She finished in first place for the Americans but, more incredibly, second behind Russian powerhouse Viktoria Komova by a mere .241.
The door had opened...or had it?
Meanwhile, Raisman’s parents, Lynn and Rick Raisman, provided an amusing aspect at what athletes’ parents go through watching their children compete live.
Olympic Team Competition
With no time to consider her own all-around fate, team captain Raisman had to rally her troupe for the next round. The team competition is one of those whereby a country has complete bragging rights for four years. The U.S. came to the Games as the reigning world champions, and nothing short of an Olympic win would suffice.
Throughout the competition, Raisman showed confidence and poise. Performing on balance beam and floor, she kept it together and posted decently on beam (14.933) and superbly on floor (15.300).
The U.S. had a substantial lead coming into floor when Raisman saluted the judges. All she needed to do was bring the gold home with a clean set. She not only did her job, she rocked the house with precision born of determination. As soon as Raisman finished her last tumbling pass, her eyes welled with tears.
Oh yes, and the crowd went wild.
All-Around Crush Fest
Throughout the Olympic 2012 Games, controversy revolving around FIG rules rose to "seriously?" status. The men caught their first glimpse when the Japanese protested a score (or inquired if you wish to be politically correct) and succeeded in getting Kohei Uchimura’s struggling pommel horse dismount to actually count as a dismount.
In the women’s all-around final, Raisman found herself in a similar situation. She tied with Aliya Mustafina of Russia for the bronze, but an FIG rule deemed Mustafina the medal winner.
In the case of a tie for the all-around, the lowest score of each gymnast is dropped. In this instance that meant Mustafina got to drop her beam score—even though she dropped off the apparatus. Mustafina got to keep her 16.100 bar score, though. Lucky duck.
Raisman’s lowest score was a 14.200, .567 higher than Mustafina’s score. But c’est la vie, those are the rules.
Mustafina got bronze, Raisman got to ponder the results.
What Goes Around Comes Around on Beam
Douglas had just taken a fall on beam. Viktoria Komova fared worse with a fall and a sit-down on her dismount. Then it was Raisman’s turn; last up of the eight-woman field.
Raisman mounted the beam. Throughout the routine there were no hair-raising errors. She performed cleanly. Not perfection, but pretty darned good and up to Olympic medal standards.
Somehow, some judge didn’t see what the rest of the audience saw. Raisman had out-performed Romanian Catalina Ponor, who was sitting in third place with a 6.6 D-score, but with one huge error (not a fall, but huge nonetheless) and other execution problems.
Still, Raisman received a 14.966 for her effort compared to Ponor’s 15.066. The crowd displayed its displeasure, while Coach Mihai Brestyan bolted to the judges’ table to protest the score.
Pay attention here folks, as the rules state you can inquire about your own gymnast’s score, but not any other gymnast. Coaches also cannot argue execution scores, only the awarded D-score. After the judges’ analysis, Raisman’s D-score was raised to a 6.3, making the bronze still up for grabs, as Ponor and Raisman tied at 15.066.
The event final’s tie was broken via the execution score. Raisman had fewer deductions than Ponor, even though Ponor had a more difficult routine. Argue the FIG and their reasoning all you want. The table had turned, this time in Raisman’s favor.
Vindication aka Floor Event Finals
The U.S. women performed early on in the lineup. Jordyn Wieber immediately followed Ksenia Afanaseva. Neither woman showed their best routine, though it is impossible to believe they didn’t show their best effort.
Raisman was up next. She had removed her front punch layout at the end of her first tumbling pass (double Arabian) during the team event because it was erratic and often landed out of bounds—but this was event finals. She had to throw her hardest stuff.
Raisman put the front layout back in and nailed the pass. From there it was all about the hard work, the sacrifice and the belief in oneself that developed into the best floor routine she or anyone else executed at this Olympics.
At the end of the day, Raisman clearly out-scored her rivals, winning by .4 of a point. Ties no longer played a role. She owned this medal.
Aly Raisman didn't own these Olympics, she simply demonstrated how hard work and dedication to one's craft pays off. She aided her team and was rewarded for her efforts. The credit for the team's accomplishments goes well beyond any one athlete or coach.
But, in the final analysis—point, set, match for Team USA.