Gymnast Aly Raisman on whirlwind post-Olympic tour

Gymnast Aly Raisman was honored at an awards dinner at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill.
Gymnast Aly Raisman was honored at an awards dinner at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff)
Posted: September 13, 2012

Now is when Aly Raisman needs to keep her balance.

The 18-year-old gymnast, captain of the captivating U.S. quintet that won both the team gold medal at the London Olympics and an alliterative nickname that always seems to go with that honor - "Fierce Five" in their case - has been swept along in a post-Games whirlwind.

The 40-city gymnastics tour she is enduring brought her Sunday to Indianapolis, where she rolled off a mat and badly bruised both knees. Monday and early Tuesday she was in New York for a fashion show, photo shoots, and interviews. Wednesday she will fly across the country to San Diego for another competition.

That left a tiny window on Tuesday night, which Raisman filled by attending a sports awards dinner at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill.

"I've been so busy," she said during an interview earlier. "It's been really hectic. I've been traveling so much between New York and L.A. But it's been so much fun. I'm getting a chance to do so much and see things I've always wanted to see. I wouldn't trade it."

After the crowd of 700 gave her a prolonged standing ovation, Raisman spoke briefly and took a few audience questions, revealing little.

In addition to the team gold, she also won an individual gold at London in the floor exercise and a bronze on the balance beam.

It was that dramatic floor routine that caused the JCC to honor Raisman, who is Jewish. "She proudly proclaimed her Jewish heritage," her presenter noted.

The music that accompanied her stirring Olympic performance was "Hava Nagila," the familiar Hebrew folk song. That and the comments she made afterward were a moving counterpoint to what many saw as the intransigence of the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC had refused to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the slaughter of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich Games, rejecting several requests, including one from the United States, that it do so with a moment of silence at the opening ceremony.

But Raisman's musical selection, her gold-medal success, and post-performance reference to the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre brought the anniversary to international attention.

At least part of her tribute, she admitted, had not been planned.

"I had used 'Hava Nagila' at the World Championships in 2011 [when the U.S. team also won gold]. I really love it because people usually start clapping. It was only after I won the gold that I realized" the significance.

"I was aware of what happened in Munich. Obviously, I wasn't alive then but I knew it was the 40th anniversary. It meant so much to me to be able to support those people."

Since her return to the United States, Raisman said, the reaction to her gesture has been overwhelming.

"I've been getting a lot of reaction," she said. "It means a lot. I was really happy to finish up strong at the Olympics and to win floor and to have done it with 'Hava Nagila.' "

Asked if, given the positive reaction, she wished she would have done even more to bring attention the tragic anniversary, she paused.

"No, I don't think I would have done anything differently," she said.

When Raisman, a native of Needham, Mass., attended the Fashion Week event Tuesday in New York, the short dress she wore revealed a pair of bruised knees.

"The mats they used [in Indianapolis] were shorter than normal and when I came off the beam I tumbled off and onto concrete," she said. "They're both definitely sore but I'll be fine."

In the meantime, she will continue the hectic gymnastics tour for another month, then rest briefly before resuming her workouts. She turned professional recently, which means she can't compete at the college level.

Though Raisman will be ancient by gymnastics' standards at 22 when the 2016 Games take place in Rio de Janeiro, she has not yet ruled them out.

"It's definitely in the back of my mind," she said.

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068,, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz," at

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