Aly Raisman earns her spot on US Olympic gymnastics team
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) As the red, white and blue confetti fell inside the SAP Center on Sunday night, Aly Raisman reached out her right hand and called for her fellow new U.S. Olympians to join in on a quick team cheer.
At 22, they call Raisman ''Grandma.'' And this determined, ultra-focused grandmother gymnast will be leading the Americans into another Olympics with all the kids, even if she wasn't so sure as she waited for the official announcement.
''We were joking, I was like, `I really am going to live up to my grandma name because I'm going to have a heart attack before they announce the names,''' Raisman said of the excruciating minutes before the five gymnasts got final word.
Teammate and three-time world champion Simone Biles wasted no time with a witty response: ''We're too young to die. So no heart attacks will take place in this arena tonight.''
On balance beam, her third rotation of the night Sunday, Raisman shined and looked nothing short of superbly confident. She let out a tiny breath before her dismount on a spectacular routine that scored a 15.250 – much stronger than her 14.8 in Friday's opening night of the Olympic Trials. She wound up in third place with a 119.750 over the two-day, eight-rotation competition.
The unflappable Raisman secured her hard-earned spot from national team coordinator Martha Karolyi with a strong showing over the past six weeks, which included an all-around victory in last month's Hartford tune-up meet.
Karolyi wanted to see strides from Raisman on floor exercise, beam and vault – and was clearly convinced the 2012 U.S. captain at the London Games and defending Olympic champion on floor is poised for a strong run in Rio. She is joined on the team by Biles, reigning Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian.
Raisman and Douglas are the first female U.S. gymnasts during Karolyi's tenure to make their Olympic debuts and be selected to return four years later for another run.
''It's just amazing because she's so strong,'' Douglas said of Raisman. ''To have her just lead this team, we've been there, and for us to be back on this road together is just amazing and kind of different because we were on the same team and now we're on the same team again. It's just a special bond.''
Raisman was the oldest on the U.S. team when she won the floor at the London Olympics and captained the close-knit ''Fierce Five'' group that captured the team title.
''It's very important they're on the team to support us and we can go to them because they know exactly what it's like,'' the 19-year-old Biles said of Douglas and Raisman's experience factor.
When Sunday's event had finally wrapped up, an orange foam massage roller tucked under her right arm, Raisman made her exit from the competition area with waves and then an ultra-quick smile before disappearing behind a curtain to wait for the decision.
All evening, cheers of ''Come on, Aly!'' greeted her from little girls' voices in every corner of the arena. A stone-faced Raisman seemed to block out everything as she prepared for her second rotation on uneven bars. She switched from hands on hips to swaying side to side, pacing back and forth to the chalk trough, then working in a quick quad stretch here and there.
Minutes later, Raisman, in a sequin-studded red leotard, finally smiled after her 14.3 on her weakest event.
Even on her No. 1 apparatus – floor – the reigning Olympic gold medalist on her favorite event realizes there is work she still must do. Douglas, too, and they will get back to work – together again – to shave off some tenths on their scores, to fine tune the smallest of details before the biggest world stage beckons in South America a few weeks from now.
Raisman stepped out on her first floor pass but recovered and scored a 15.050, offering waves in every direction of the arena as she stepped down from the floor.
After taking an extended break post-London, which included a ''Dancing With The Stars'' stint, Raisman only returned to competition in March 2015.
So, this Rio trip was no guarantee in the short, ever-diminishing window that can define elite gymnastics. It is an accomplishment she will celebrate, and once her long day was done Sunday, she let down her guard and let the emotions flow. She cried.
''It was such a relief because it was so nerve-wracking,'' she said. ''I was so nervous this competition.''
Even Karolyi shed some tears, telling her gymnasts it was the toughest team decision yet for the U.S. selection committee.
''If I can make an event final, that's great,'' Raisman said. ''But right now I'm just really focused on being a good captain and also just making sure we do a good job in the team final.''