That’s why Raisman is back at his old gym in Burlington where his Olympic odyssey began almost a decade ago with coach Mihai Brestyan. After a year of treatment on the red carpet, she returns to a normal life.
âOf course, I never had a normal life,â Raisman said, half-joking.
His new normal includes a few classes at Babson, his sponsorship engagements, charity work, and public appearances. Almost everything on his diary was the byproduct of a few tens of minutes of inspired work in London, where Raisman captained the most impressive victory in Games history for the United States, won a Individual gold on floor, won a bronze in beam balance, and narrowly missed another in the all-around on a tie-breaker.
“It’s amazing and crazy,” she marveled.
It wasn’t surprising. The Americans were to win team gold as the reigning world champions, and the floor was Raisman’s best event. The trick was to cash the favorite’s ticket when the time came, when one misstep could knock you off the podium.
âThe Olympics was so much pressure on the five of us,â said Raisman, who was a Games rookie like the rest of her teammates. âWe had been training our whole life for this, but at the same time, we were confident. “
Gabby Douglas won the all-around, McKayla Maroney won a silver in vault that would have been gold without a bottom landing first, and Raisman recovered her pair in the apparatus finals. The question for all of the Fierce Five, which also included former world champion Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross, was: what’s next?
Only Maroney and Ross competed at this summer’s national championships in Hartford, where the quintet was inducted into the American Gymnastics Hall of Fame. It was too early for Raisman to return to a competition leotard.
“I desperately needed a break,” she said.
His schedule was as busy as it was, especially with his “Dancing with the Stars” adventure.
âIt changed my life,â said Raisman, who reached the final with partner Mark Ballas. âFor the first time in my life, to do something outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t feel any pressure but I was nervous because you have five days to learn dances that you have never tried before.
“Dancing with the Stars” was part of the perks goodie bag which can be accompanied by a gold medal. Raisman was able to light the torch at this summer’s Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem, where she took her family on vacation. She appeared on David Letterman’s show and âAccess Hollywoodâ (where she was tested for doping because she was still eligible for the Olympics) and threw the first pitch at Fenway. She helped develop her signature leotard line for GK Elite.
Meanwhile, the next quadrennium began without her.
Less than two months after the London Games, American coach Martha Karolyi brought together two dozen juniors at the team’s training camp in Houston, her eye already riveted on Rio.
âWe have to think about the next generation,â she said.
The class of 2012 captain, of course, is welcome to stick around.
âMartha said, ‘I’m not putting any pressure on you,’ Raisman said. “‘Whenever you are ready to return, we have open arms for you.’ “
While not ready to compete this season, Raisman felt the need to get back on track.
âIt took me a long time, but one morning I woke up and said, I’m ready to come back,â she said. âNow that I’m back, I feel like a little kid again. “
It took 16 years at the gym for this little kid to climb the ladder of Olympus, and even for champions, the back and forth is far from automatic. Five of the six members of the 2008 squad, including Raisman’s former teammate Alicia Sacramone, attempted to make the 2012 squad. None did. Age, weight, injuries, and the challenge of mastering difficult new tricks make rehearsals rare, but they do happen. Dominique Dawes, one of the Magnificent 7 in 1996, made one more team (in 2000) and won another medal.
Raisman will only be 22 next Olympic year and she’s managed to stay healthy in a sport that tears shoulders, knees and ankles. She might already have two gold medals to remember, but she wouldn’t mind collecting a third in the all-around.
âIt’s never enough,â she said. âYou can always do more. Of course, I would like to win more medals for my country. It’s just the most amazing thing.
Having done so, Raisman had no illusions about what it would take again: hundreds of hours at the gym with Brestyan pushing her. She is therefore making the most of her sabbatical.
âMy coaches told me to take the year for fun,â she said. “Do whatever you want to do because once you come back, that’s it.”
So she tried to keep her new normal life in balance. Two mornings a week at Babson (âI hadn’t been in a classroom since first year of high school.â). Her calendar commitments, which include hosting a Weston charity event next month to benefit Uniting Against Lung Cancer, the disease that plagued her grandmother two years ago.
But the road to Rio goes through the gym on Ray Avenue, and there are no shortcuts.
The best thing about a cover, however, is that it means you’ve been there once before. So why not shoot?
âI feel like I’ve done it before,â Raisman said. “So if that doesn’t go my way, at least I did what I always wanted to do.”
John Powers can be contacted at [email protected]