By Jo-Ann Barnas – Special to USA Gymnastics
INDIANAPOLIS – Her score was important. So were the medals.
But in the final assessment, nothing was valued more by three-time 2012 Olympic medalist Aly Raisman than the affirmation she received from USA Gymnastics women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi after winning the all-around bronze medal at the City of Jesolo Trophy on March 28 in Italy.
The Jesolo Trophy was the first competition for Raisman, who lives in Needham, Mass., and trains with longtime coach Mihai Brestyan, and reigning Olympic women’s all-around champion Gabby Douglas since the London Games. In addition to her bronze in the all-around, she took another bronze on floor exercise and helped Team USA to the team gold in Italy.
“She was really happy and excited that me and Gabby proved that we were still confident, that we are able to compete under pressure,” Raisman, 20, said of Karolyi’s assessment.
Team USA took the top four positions at the event, with two-time world champion Simone Biles of Spring, Texas/World Champion Centre, leading the way a score of 62.100 for the title.
Bailie Key of Montgomery Texas/Texas Dreams won silver with 59.500, followed by Raisman (59.100) and Douglas of Virginia Beach, Va./Buckeye Gymnastics (58.900).
Team USA also swept the podium in the junior event.
USA Gymnastics caught up with Raisman upon her return last week from Italy. Here are excerpts from the interview:
USA Gymnastics: Heading into Jesolo Trophy, you said your goal was to show everyone that you could handle big gymnastics on the international stage. Now that you’re back home, how do you feel about everything?
Aly Raisman: It feels good. But right now, I’m just so exhausted. Everything is kind of just like hitting me – all of the traveling, all the practicing and competing and everything. But I was really, really pleased and happy with how me and Gabby did. I was excited that we were able to compete together for the first time at the same meet. So it felt really good. We both competed without any huge major mistakes or falls, so we were really, really happy and I’m just excited. The work and the motivation will just continue from here.
Q: Competing for the first time (since London Olympics), any butterflies?
A: I was nervous in the weeks leading up to it. But then on the day the competition came, I felt pretty confident, I’d say. We started on vault. I’m always pretty much the most nervous to do vault and bars, so after those two were out of the way, I felt a little more comfortable. And I think that the whole atmosphere of the USA team, everyone seems really confident and really calm, so it kind of just rubbed off on me, too.
I mean, I was nervous leading up to it, but after training and practicing so much in front of Martha (Karolyi), I definitely felt better.
Q: Did the results of this meet affirm that you made the right decision coming back? Training and practicing are one thing, but until you compete again, you’re not sure how you stack up against everyone else.
A: Yes. For sure. Me and Gabby actually got the same exact placements that we got in 2011 – the year before the Olympics in Italy – so it’s kind of funny that we’re in the same exact spot, so hopefully, it will be good luck for us.
Q: Any fun anecdotes or stories that you can share about rooming with Gabby in Italy? Feel like old times?
A: I’ve actually never roomed with Gabby before at a competition. It’s funny because me and her sleep, like, way more than anyone else. We’re always napping and going to bed early. All the girls always tease us about that. And you have Simone, who’s like so hyper and so energetic. She doesn’t nap during the day. She doesn’t need to go to sleep real early. And here’s me and Gabby – we go to sleep earlier than her, and we nap during the day. It was really funny, though, to see how much we all sleep more than everyone else.
Q: At this stage, with Rio just over a year out, where are you right now in terms of where you want to be?
A: I feel after this competition that it was definitely a confidence booster. I didn’t know exactly where I stood or how I was going to handle not competing for over two years. That’s a really, really long time to be out of it. And when I was there, verifying at training camp, I was pretty nervous to verify, but I was more nervous to verify in front of Martha than I was to compete in Italy. I think all of the girls agree with that. I think Martha is a lot more intimidating and way more scary than competing at a big competition, which is weird, but it is really helpful to be able to train in front of her all the time.
Q: Is your relationship with Martha a little bit more different now that you’ve had an Olympic run with her and because you’re older?
A: I don’t think so. But I think that’s why USA Gymnastics is so successful. I remember when I was first coming back and Martha was like, “Whenever you’re ready to come to camp, we’re really excited to have you back. But we’re only excited to have you back if you’re the same Aly as you were before and you’re doing all of the requirements that I ask for."
So they’re excited that I’m back but they’ve made it clear – same with Mihai (Brestyan) – that if I don’t put in 110 percent of my effort, than it’s just not worth coming back. Team USA is extremely deep and extremely amazing, and I understand that – I work with these girls all the time in training camp. I know it’s going to be really tough. But I’m working toward being on that team again.
Q: How about some comments on Simone. You had seen her in camp, and now, finally, competing alongside her.
A: She’s just very confident and calm. You can just tell that she’s in a really great place right now. So it’s really helpful for me to be able to train with her. When she goes up on the event to compete, she knows she’s going to hit it. She’s that confident in herself. And seeing her improvement and the way she carries herself, the way she competes in really amazing. And me and Gabby definitely, we’re watching her, and definitely look up to that. She’s been on top of the world for past couple of years, so she’s obviously doing something right.
Q: Gabby’s the Olympic all-around champion. How did she view her performance after the competition?
A: I think we were both really happy. Especially when we figured out that this was exactly where we were in 2011. We were just happy we didn’t make any mistakes. I didn’t even expect to get third in the all-around. I was really surprised when they pulled me to stand up on the podium. I had no idea. I don’t watch my scores during the meet or anything. I had no idea. We were both really excited. And congratulations to Bailie Key. She was competing in her first senior meet, and she did amazing. Her floor routine was awesome, too.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I am going to training camp again in a couple of weeks. Just working on half-routines and improving my flexibility and just cleaning up little things here and there and upgrading a little bit on floor, trying to get my start value higher. But other than that, if you look at my start values and my execution scores, the execution scores are more of a red flag and I need to improve on that the most right now.
Q: What did Martha say after the meet?
A: She was really happy and excited that me and Gabby proved that we were still confident, that we are able to compete under pressure. She said to improve execution, and she wanted to see those improvements for next training camp.
Q: What’s life like for you outside the gym right now?
A: Right now, I don’t get out much outside the gym. I’m pretty much just training and doing as much physical therapy and massages and treatment to kind of maintain and recuperate from workouts. That’s kind of the main priority right now. I would say the only thing I’ve noticed is my back gets a little more aggravated than it did before. But I mean, I remember going into London, every part of my body hurt. But that’s part of gymnastics and being an athlete, as well. I remember I was always so exhausted and tired before. Most elite gymnasts are like that. That’s why everything I do outside the gym, I do it with gymnastics in mind. But I don’t feel that much older because when I was 16, I felt like I was 50 years old (laughing). I was so tired and everything hurt all the time.
Q: Jordyn (Wieber) last month officially announced her retirement. You two have been friends forever.
A: If Jordyn’s happy, I’m happy. It seems like she really loves UCLA so much – every time I talk to her, she’s running to class or running with her friends or running to watch the girls practice. She’s busy, and she’s loving it. I’m happy for her. And LA is so beautiful, and the weather is amazing. Every time I talk to her, I tell her that I’m jealous she gets the warm weather while we’re stuck here in the snow.