Aly Raisman, dependable to the last, delivers gold as teammates stumble

Aly Raisman was the third wheel of the US gymnastics team heading into London 2012. Now, at the end of a rough few days for her teammates, she is the one in the spotlight at last. 

By , Staff writer

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    Alexandra Raisman celebrates winning a gold medal in the women's gymnastics floor exercise victory ceremony in the North Greenwich Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games Tuesday.
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By the measure of the all-important medal table, at least, these were Alexandra Raisman's Olympics, and for the steady-as-she-goes member of America's Fab 5, that sounds about right. 

A third wheel before these Games began, outshone by the ethereal lightness of Gabrielle Douglas and the gymnastic pedigree of Jordyn Wieber, Ms. Raisman now has a third medal, more than any other American gymnast in London. Indeed, by the final day of the gymnastics program here, Raisman was the only one of her teammates left standing – and atop the medal stand, no less, with a bronze on beam and a gold on floor.

One by one, her teammates fell – sometimes literally – in the event finals, seemingly emotionally spent by the enormity of their accomplishment in winning the team event during the Games' first week. "It's so hard to get back in focus," said Ms. Douglas, who finished seventh on the beam Tuesday, and at one point in her routine was left hugging the beam with both her arms and legs after a slip.

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But Raisman had no gold-medal hangover. No fuss. No fanfare. Just solidly, dependably Aly, down to the last day of gymnastics. And for that, alongside the grace of Gabby, the determination of Ms. Wieber, and the free-flying antics of McKayla Maroney, Raisman at last got her own day in the spotlight.

"Today has been a dream come true," she said. "I'm so glad I got the medal I wanted."

The medal she wanted was for the floor exercise, where she is the reigning world champion. And her routine was just one of the many things to like about the last day of gymnastics in London. 

First there was the Chinese duo of Deng Linlin and Sui Lu, who alone of all the competitors on the beam looked as though there wasn't the slightest chance of them falling off. All-around silver medalist, Russian Victoria Komova, did fall off, and Douglas only prevented herself from doing the same by her improvised rodeo act. The virtuosity of the Chinese performances turned the competition into a race for bronze, and when it ended, it still wasn't clear who had won.

When Raisman's score of 14.966 flashed up, it appeared that Romania's Catalina Ponor had finished third with a 15.066. But Raisman's coach, Mihai Brestyan, immediately sprinted into action. Last week in the all-around, when Raisman had finished tied for third but lost out on bronze because of a tiebreaker, Brestyan has been asked if he should have made an inquiry. There was no time, he had said then.

Tuesday, he almost sprinted over to the judge's desk to call for an inquiry. The judges had incorrectly undervalued Raisman's degree of difficulty by 0.1 points, he said. The judges agreed and she won the extra 0.1 points, putting her in a tie with Ponor and – by the same tiebreaking method that had gone against her before – edged Ponor for the bronze.

Raisman still had more business to do on the floor, her best event, but before that came the men's horizontal bar and perhaps the most astounding individual performance of the entire gymnastics program. Dutchman Epke Zonderland's routine had a 7.9 difficulty score, which means the only thing he could have done to make it harder would have been to perform it over a pit of live crocodiles. The gasps from the crowd made it sound as if he had.

In the last event, the floor, the gasps came from Raisman's coach himself.  

"It was the best routine I've ever done," Raisman said. "My coach said it was the best routine he'd ever seen me do."

She posted a 15.6, well ahead of Ponor, who took silver with 15.2.

It was the high note in a forgettable second week of gymnastics for the US girls. Douglas became the first-ever Olympic all-around champion not to win a medal in any of the individual events. In some ways, that remained a testament to what she has accomplished here. Seen as talented but unfocused, many observers wondered if she had the mental strength to maintain her gymnastics through the team and all-around events.

She did. But she was simply unable to keep it together for another four days. "It's not like back in the team final and the all-around finals," she said. "It was hard for me to focus."

For Wieber, who didn't qualify for the all-around because Douglas and Raisman scored higher and each nation can only have two girls in the all-around, Tuesday was a bitter ending. She stepped out on her floor routine and finished seventh, 1.1 points behind Raisman.

On Monday, Maroney, the prohibitive favorite for gold in the vault, fell on her second vault. She got silver – and gave the world the look of someone sucking on a lemon – on the medal stand.

It took Raisman – solid, dependable Aly – to bring some joy to the end of a very good Olympics for the US gymnastics program.

And to no one's surprise, she did just that.    

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