By John Powers
Aly Raisman won the Secret U.S. Classic the last time that it was held in an Olympic year and went on to captain the American women’s team to the gold medal in London and won another for herself. So maybe her repeat victory in Saturday night’s all-around in Hartford, Conn., will set her up for a Rio reprise this summer.
"I’m really happy with how I did," Raisman concluded after she survived an opening fall on uneven bars to win her third title with a 59.250 tally at the XL Center, nearly a point ahead of Rachel Gowey (58.300). "I know that I’m not making the Olympic team for bars so I made the improvements that (national team coordinator) Martha (Karolyi) was looking for in the other three events, so she was happy."
The Classic was the final tuneup for the P&G Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis in three weeks’ time so Karolyi was looking more for progress than primacy from the contenders for the five-member Rio team, which will be chosen after next month’s trials in San Jose.
"This is very much the beginning of the road," said Karolyi. "Just before we marched into the arena, I talked to the girls and said, this is your rehearsal for the championship, because that’s the show."
So Karolyi gave most of the top challengers light duty, most notably world champion Simone Biles and Olympic titlist Gabby Douglas, who competed only on bars and balance beam, as did world teamer Madison Kocian, who was making her re-entry after breaking her left tibia in February.
"I don’t feel that I have to prove anything but to myself, that I can still go out there and compete under pressure and be consistent," said Biles, who’d taken the last two Classic crowns and won the beam title here (15.650). "So it’s more like for myself."
Douglas, who’s the only London veteran other than Raisman who’s bidding for a return ticket to Olympus, came here looking to continue her buildup to the two selection meets. "I just wanted to do my best on the two events I was doing," she said after placing third on bars (15.650) and sixth on beam. "Right now I think I’m in a pretty good spot…So far everything’s coming along very well. I’ve learned not to put everything out on the floor just yet, to really stay calm and be patient. One meet at a time and really pace myself."
Raisman, the only member of last year’s gold-medal world squad to compete in all four events here, came back from her bars tumble to win the floor exercise (15.500) and vault (15.700) and place third on beam (15.000). "When I looked at (coach Mihai Brestyan) when I fell off I thought, he’s going to kill me," she said. "I don’t know who’s going to kill me first, Martha or Mihai."
But Karolyi pronounced herself pleased with Raisman’s resilience. "That’s a very important quality," she said. "You make a mistake, you keep a clear mind and be able to present well the other routines."
Bars never has been Raisman’s forte and she knew that the next three rotations all played to her strengths. She’d won the beam bronze and floor gold in London and had worked assiduously on vault at her Massachusett’s gym. "I finally landed my vault (the Amanar) the way that I wanted," said Raisman, who won the event by nearly a point over Rachel Gowey, second, and Alyssa Baumann, who finished third overall.
It was Raisman’s best effort on the vault since the 2012 Games and it sealed her victory. Just possibly, where the Classic is concerned, her past again will be prologue.