A group of young gymnasts gathers around me at Exxcel Gymnastics and Climbing in Newton, Mass. They’re tiny. Too tiny to tumble, twist, flip and fly the way they do. It seems nearly impossible. Yet there they are anyway, tumbling, twisting, flipping and flying through the air for hours a day.
I ask: “Who’s your favorite Olympian?” But I already know the answer.
“ALY RAISMAN!!!!” they scream in the only way little girls know how to scream: loudly and in unison.
It’s Aly Raisman fever at the newly minted gold medalist’s former gym in Newton.
Lessons learned from the Olympian
“She’s a really good role model because she works hard and she keeps trying if she doesn’t get it,” said 12-year-old Min Min, her hands still chalky from her last bar routine.
Raisman, a Needham native, trained at Exxcel for 10 years. Her former coach Tatiana Kamarskaya said what she remembers most about the Olympian is her strength.
“She could do 20 chin-ups easy, right from the beginning. And she was excellent on press-handstands, which is a really hard thing to do,” said Kamarskaya.
So when Raisman was competing for team gold on July 31, Coach Kamarskaya put training on hold so her 75 eager little gymnasts could watch the competition — and their idol — LIVE. Emily Stoller, 9, was a bundle of nerves.
“I just wanted to get up and say “COME ON! Just do it! Don’t be afraid! You’re going to do well no matter what,’" she said.
Wise beyond her years, I know.
From the very first thunderous tumble over the vault, the U.S. women’s team was poised to win. And by now, everyone knows how this story ends: on the podium.
Team USA took the gold, beating silver medalists Russia by a staggering 5 points. That type of win — when it’s the best in the world against the best in the world — is practically unheard of in the gymnastics world.
“It was great,” said Kamarskaya. “You should have seen them cheering.”
A week of excitement
The party continues at the gym on Aug. 3 with an Olympics-themed sleepover. Coaches will set up a big screen and replay highlights from the Olympics and the much-anticipated all-around competition set for Aug. 2.
Stoller, her blue leotard closely resembling something Team USA wore during competition, can hardly contain her excitement.
“If she went to this gym and she’s an Olympian, if I keep working hard maybe I can accomplish the same thing Aly did,” said Stoller.
Aly Raisman winning gold, and inspiring a whole new generation of Olympic hopefuls.