August 8, 2012

Out of a shadow, into a golden light

The finish to Aly Raisman's Olympics was so much more fabulous than the start.

LONDON – The finish to Aly Raisman's Olympics was so much more fabulous than the start.

Raisman, an 18-year-old from Needham, Mass., who was often overlooked on this U.S. women's gymnastics team, did something no American woman has ever done. She won the Olympic gold medal on floor exercise.

When Romanian Sandra Izbasa, the reigning Olympic floor champion, landed her last tumbling pass on her head and shoulder, Raisman could finally smile.

She proudly uses the Jewish folk song "Hava Nagila," as her floor music and she acknowledged fans who waved both American and Israeli flags in the arena.

"Today has been a dream come true," Raisman said. "It was the best floor routine I've ever done. My coach said it was the best routine he'd ever seen me do."

Raisman said she didn't intentionally choose her floor music as a tribute to the Israeli athletes who were killed at the Munich Olympics 40 years ago. "But having that music makes this very special to me," she said. "It means a lot to me. If there had been a minute of silence, I would have participated."

Raisman's coach, Mihai Brestyan, said Raisman had felt like "the bad guy a little bit," after beating out Jordyn Wieber for an all-around spot.

Raisman was the top-scoring American during qualification day.

Earlier Tuesday, Raisman also had won a bronze medal on the balance beam, but only after her coach protested her initial low score of 14.966.

Raisman endured an agonizing wait until judges watched a replay of her routine and gave her credit for all the difficult skills she had completed. Her new score of 15.066 put her into a third-place tie with another Romanian, Catalina Ponor, and this time the tiebreak went in Raisman's favor.

Raisman had finished tied with Aliya Mustafina for the all-around bronze medal last week but finished fourth after the tiebreak procedure did not go her way.

Raisman's participation in the all-around had come at the expense of Wieber, the reigning world champion who had finished fourth overall in qualifying behind Raisman and eventual winner Gabby Douglas.

Since only two women per country are allowed to compete in the 24-woman final, Wieber was left crying and on the sidelines. She was teary-eyed again Tuesday after leaving the Olympics without an individual medal.

Wieber's attempt at personal fulfillment ended badly when she stepped out of bounds early in her floor exercise routine. She finished seventh.

Wieber's coach, John Geddert, said he wasn't making excuses, but Wieber had been suffering from a bruised heel all during the gymnastics competition. Wieber wouldn't even mention pain. "I'm fine," she said.

Douglas, the 16-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., who became the first American to win both team and all-around gold at the same Olympics, seemed worn out by the attention that had come her way. She almost fell off the balance beam and finished seventh.

"It's OK," Douglas said. "This has still been great."

The American men were not so fortunate. All-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva was fifth and 2008 silver medalist Jonathan Horton finished sixth on the horizontal bar.

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