An oral history of Aly Raisman, by Aly Raisman
The six-time Olympic medalist gymnast speaks her mind on the London Olympics, One Direction and the ESPN Body Issue
In an interview with NBC Olympics in November 2015, Aly Raisman got brutally honest about everything from being roommates with Jordyn Wieber to talking comebacks with Gabby Douglas.
On tricking herself at the London Olympics
The whole time we were in London, we were just trying to convince ourselves that it was just like any other competition. You can’t really think about the fact that it’s the Olympics, you know? Even sitting here right now, it’s just – it’s overwhelming to think that the Olympics are so close, but you just have to really just take it as any other day and I know that sounds, you know, crazy, but that’s really what it comes down to.
On walking into the arena to compete
We’re going in as the best team in the world. So we should carry ourselves that way, not be scared and shaky because we have that pressure. It should be the opposite. You know, you walk in like you’re number one and I think that’s intimidating to everyone else.
On Jordyn Wieber and the two-per-country rule
I think the two-per-country rule is the dumbest thing ever. You know, I just had the same thing happen to me at World Championships. I finished fifth in the world, and I didn’t get to compete in the all-around final. It’s just stupid. You know? I think that they should be able to – even if it’s top 8 in the country, if there’s – who cares if there’s five Chinese girls on the bar final up there, the best five, then they should be able to compete. And you know, it’s something that I always feel bad about because it’s just not fair, you know? And [Jordyn Wieber and I] had to room together the rest – we roomed together the whole trip, but that night, you know, it was just like – it is devastating because we are best friends and I do want the best for her and I – it’s just – it’s really hard to put into words because it’s just like very, very uncomfortable and it was just like heart breaking for me to have to like see her go through that, because it’s just not fair.
Seeing Jordyn just so happy in the Team Final was just one of my favorite memories, because it wasn’t fair, what happened to her, and I think everyone deserves to have like that really, really amazing Olympic moment and I feel like during the Team Final, like, she was kind of just like the star of it because she came back so strong. And that’s something that’s really, really difficult to do, and I think that a lot of people were just like in awe with it.
On the last moments of the 2012 Olympic team final
You know, we were hoping that we won, but you still never know until that final score comes up, because the judges are the ones that are in control at that point. But we knew that no matter what, we did the best that we could, but we were, you know, I think that we knew that we won, but if I watch the video, I was asked, “What do we need?” I don’t really watch any of the scores; I don’t really know what’s going on. I watch my teammates, but I don’t look at the scoreboard or anything. So you really never know until the score comes up.
On standing on the top step of the podium
Everyone is like, “What were you thinking on the podium?” I’m like, I’m just like probably thinking, like, “We’re hungry” to be honest. Like I don’t know – it’s just like such a long day.
On the morning after the team final
I remember, like, I woke up in the morning to my mom, she texted all five of us in a group message and she was like, “Good morning, Olympic champions!” And we thought it was so cool because we were just like, “Oh my God.” It doesn’t really sink in, but when you wake up in the morning, it just, it doesn’t feel real at all and then it’s like you’re preparing for the next few competitions.
On keeping her medal safe in the Olympic Village
I think I hid it in my sock drawer or something. And we were nervous it was gonna get stolen. We hid it, because, you know, you’re in the village and we just – we just hid it because there were so many people around. And we were on the first floor, so it was right near the window, so we were just being overly paranoid.
On the traumatic all-around final
From the all-around finals, it’s funny, I don’t really remember really anything from that night, just because I feel like it was like, it was just so... I don’t even know the right word, but I don’t know if this is harsh, but it was almost like traumatic for me. You know, obviously for Gabby, winning, I was really, really happy for her and it was a – probably, you know, the best night of her life. But for me, it was like I had never really made – there’s been so few times in my career I’d made that mistake on beam and it was just such a bummer that I did that at that moment. And then to see yourself in third place on the all-around, and then they’re just like, “Oh, sorry, we just decided to put you in fourth – we broke the tie.” It’s just – it’s you know, not fair.
On never re-watching that competition
I didn’t watch that competition. I never will watch a meet that I don’t do well in. I just don’t like to. But I watch only meets that I do good in. So I watched the team final from the Olympics and beam and floor finals. But you know, I’ve watched Gabby’s videos from the Olympics and the all-around final, you know, because like that was a happy memory and I like watching that, because I like seeing her happy. But I won’t watch my videos from that meet.
On the number four
I hate that number. I hate the number four. I just wanna like cut it in half and kill it. I hate it. I’ve been fourth so many times.
I’ve been – you want me to tell you all the times I’ve been fourth? Wanna hear? You’ll be here all night. I was fourth in 2010, on floor. Fourth in 2011 in the all-around. Fourth in 2011 on beam finals and then fourth in 2012 in the all-around. And I was almost fourth again in 2012 in the beam final, but we complained about the score and they bumped me up to 3rd place. So I was tied for 3rd place, they broke the tie, and they let me have the bronze medal, and the poor Romanian girl got bumped down to fourth.
On changing her attitude for the 2012 Olympic floor final
My coach was just like, “This is your last opportunity.” He’s like, “Just go out there, have fun.” I was the last one out of all the USA gymnasts to compete on floor. He’s like, “Just end everyone on the good note. Whatever happens, happens.” And I was struggling a little bit in workout, because at that point we hadn’t had a day off in over a month. I was exhausted and my coach was like, “Just like, stop thinking and just do it.” And I went and did the best floor routine of my life, and then I just, I don’t know – it’s just like one of those things where I woke up that morning and I was like, “I’m sick of feeling sorry for myself and today I’m finally gonna win for myself.” Because I – you know – every time before, it had been about me. I always messed up and I was like, “Today it’s not gonna happen. I’m gonna have a good day."
On when the magnitude of the Olympics hit her
I was watching the soccer game at the Olympics when we were done competing and it was the men’s soccer final, and at that moment, when I was like completely done, I was like, “Oh crap, I’m at the Olympics.” It was like, just that moment where it just kind of all sinks in and hits you because there were like 80,000 people in the stands and then before the players came out they played this montage video and I was in it, along with my teammates and it was just like, I was at the game, but none of them were with me, but it really sunk in at that moment. But it really, even now, you know, it doesn’t really feel real.
On Kyla Ross crying at the Closing Ceremony
We got to go to the Closing Ceremony. So that was really cool. And I remember we got there late, we all got there together, Team USA, and we were a little bit late just because all the athletes walk in. So it took forever. And we missed One Direction and my teammate Kyla [Ross] was in love with them, and she was so bummed. She was almost crying that she missed One Direction. I was like, “Kyla, you’ve got an Olympic gold medal here, I think you’ll survive.” You know? But it was funny, like, she was literally devastated that we didn’t get to see One Direction but hopefully she’s been able to see them in concert, but I’m not sure.
On talking to Gabby Douglas about returning to gymnastics competition
I think after the Olympics, for a while, I think I knew in the back of my mind I wanted to come back but at that moment I couldn’t even think about it. Like I remember a few months later me and Gabby were watching the American Cup and I remember I looked at her and I said, “Do you like even like wanna be out there at all?” And she’s like, “No.” And I was like, “Me neither.” And we were both just being honest. We’re just like – you just need a break.
On why she loves gymnastics
I love gymnastics because it never gets boring and there’s always something that you need to work on, and it’s very, very challenging.
On the Magnificent Seven and Carly Patterson
When I was 8 years old, my mom used to play the ’96 women’s gymnastics team over and over again, and I was just obsessed with them, and I would watch it and then I realized that I wanted to compete in the Olympics, and I don't know, I was just literally obsessed. Like I had every score memorized. I would watch it every single day, and then I used to just come home from school and from gym literally till I was like 14 years old, then I would just watch gymnastics over and over again.
But when we were watching the 2004 Olympics, I was 10 years old. We were watching it in my room, and my mom was like, when Carly Patterson won the all-around, my mom was like, “Oh, I feel so bad for her mom. This must be such a stressful night. I’m so glad I never have to go through that.” And then I got mad at her because I obviously wanted to go to the Olympics, but I don't know. I mean, they always supported me but I’m sure they probably thought I was a little crazy.
On posing for the ESPN Body Issue
Well, I feel like a couple years ago, the ESPN Body Issue was something that I would have never thought about doing, but I think at the age of 21 I feel confident in myself and I feel confident in the way that I look. I work really, really hard for my body and I eat healthy and, I don't know, I just thought it would be a cool thing to try. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but it was – I felt more comfortable doing the ESPN Body Issue than I do like dancing in here by myself, which is weird but I’m serious.
On the advice from her mother
My parents, especially my mom, the last few months coming home from World Championships, she always – I think the most important thing I get from my mom is she teaches me that it’s just gymnastics. It’s important to be confident, and it’s important to do well and to want to do well, but you can’t let it take over you, and I think after World’s, I was like so devastated, and my mom said, “It’s not necessarily what you accomplish, it’s the kind of person you are that people will remember you for.” So I think that that's something that is really important to me, and I think it’s important for everyone to remember. You know, we get so caught up in winning all the time but it’s also even more important to be a good person, so that's what I learned.
On her signature "Aly bun"
Because it just like, I have so much hair that it doesn’t stay I, but I literally put in, like, 15 hair elastics in my hair. So I have to like, take Advil or something, because I get a headache you know, like a hair headache, because I pull my hair back so tight.
On being incredibly uncoordinated
I don't know how to snap, I’m so uncoordinated. The other day I was trying to take my pants off and it got caught, and I seriously thought I dislocated my thumb. That's how like – I was like trying to pull my pants off so fast at a practice and I got caught and it popped, and I’m fine but I sprained it and it can’t snap. I wasn’t able to snap either but that's my excuse for not being able to try very well.
On the Olympic spirit
The Olympic spirit I think is just unlike anything else in the world. It’s kind of a time where the whole world comes together and they support their favorite athletes or their favorite team and no matter where you are in the world and no matter what’s going on it’s nice that everyone can just stop and support everyone because I think everyone loves sports. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. I think everyone shares that love and passion and everyone loves watching sports. So it’s really a lot of fun, especially being from the United States. We obviously a huge sports country and we’re very successful. So it’s really cool to be a part of it.
On being a leader
Being a leader of this team I think is very important. I’ll be the oldest. I’ve been the oldest for a couple of years now and I’m the oldest of four siblings and the oldest at my gym where I train. So it is really important for me to be a good role model and that these girls look up to me. But at the same time we’re a team. We all help each other out. . And just because I’m the team leader, the captain it doesn’t mean that I don’t need their help too. We all work together.