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The United States gymnastics program has a long history of Olympic success, thanks to leadership from world-class gymnasts like Nastia Liukin, Carly Patterson and Alicia Sacramone. Now that the 2012 Olympic games are approaching, a new generation of gymnasts is on the rise, with Aly Raisman leading the pack.
Raisman grew up idolizing the U.S. team and dreaming of some day representing her country on the big stage. “I’ve always aspired to be a high-level athlete and to go to the Olympics,” she says.
Even from an early age, Raisman never stopped pushing herself. When the older girls in her gym would execute moves beyond her ability, Raisman did her best to join in, much to her coaches' dismay. “I copied the older girls at my gym when I was younger, and I would get into trouble because I didn’t pay attention to my coach,” she says. “I wanted to be as good as them right from the start.”
Her ambitious approach and ability to excel in all four events quickly propelled Raisman to the top of her class. “My favorite event is floor, because I love tumbling and it has always came the easiest to me,” she says. “I think I’m very strong on my vault, and my bar is coming along.”
2011 was a banner year for Raisman. She was selected to represent the United States at the 2011 World Championships and came away with a team gold and an individual bronze on floor. “I just came back from the 2011 World Championships, and we won team gold, which is so amazing and such a dream come true,” she says. “It’s so surreal that it hasn’t even sunk in that I’m a world champion.”
Raisman's success at Worlds was a huge step toward achieving her Olympic dreams, but she realizes that she can’t stand pat. “I really feel like this will be a special year,” she says. “I have to keep training, working hard and never give up to ensure that happens.”
Elite Gymnastics Training
Raisman is no stranger to hard work. She spends six days a week at Brestyan’s Gymnastics, devoting up to twelve hours a day during four of her training sessions.
Already an elite talent, Raisman now focuses on refining each event, performing several repetitions of each move to feel comfortable and breaking down her practices on video. “You can never do too many numbers,” she advises. “The more numbers you do, the more confident you feel.”
In spite of her impressive physical abilities, Raisman spends no time in the weight room. Instead, she focuses on conditioning and performing moves that functionally strengthen her body, like tap dancing, leg lifts, rope climbs and jumps. “We do it a lot to keep up our strength," she says, "because the stronger you are, the easier the events become, and it prevents injuries if you have a bad landing or [commit] other mistakes.”
In the coming months, Raisman will be vying for a spot on the Olympic roster. Keep an eye out for this future star as she strives to achieve her ultimate goal.
Check out other future Olympic athletes with STACK's coverage of handball star Gary Hines and water polo medalist Brenda Villa.
Photos: John Cheng/USA Gymnastics