Q&A: Olympian Aly Raisman

The Needham native is training for the 2016 games in Rio and talked to us about working out, her favorite places to eat, and a certain lucky eyeshadow that may have just helped win the gold.

Aly Raisman

Photos by John Cheng/USA Gymnastics

It was the “Hava Nagila” heard ’round the world. After her gold medal winning floor routine at the London Games, Raisman easily became one of the Boston area’s most famous residents. But then what happens? You pack up the medals (two golds and a bronze), put them safely in a bank box (keeping the medals in her home didn’t seem like a good idea, she says), and then go back to being a regular 19-year-old girl in Needham. Well, sort of.

Raisman, like most teenagers her age, enjoys going out to eat (Blue on Highland is one of her favorite restaurants), shopping at Bloomingdales in Chestnut Hill, and catching up on the latest movies with her friends and family. She’s also taking college classes part-time at Babson College. But that’s where the similarities between the Olympian and her peers end. She says that she has no time for dating—but that hasn’t stopped some eager teenage boys from asking—and she’s started her training for the 2016 games in Rio after taking a year off to do tours, speaking engagements, and Dancing with the Stars, where she finished fourth.

We caught up Raisman as she begins her preparation for the 2016 games—she still has to make the team—to talk about training, life in the Commonwealth, and just how they get their makeup to stay so perfect even after flipping through the air. If you want to catch up with Raisman, you can meet her at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Road to Sochi Tour event at the Boston Common Frog Pond on Sunday, January 12.

The media has implied that you were trying to make some sort of statement by doing the floor routine to “Hava Nagila” on the anniversary of the Munich Massacre. Was that planned?

I wasn’t trying to prove anything. If you watch floor finals now, every song is energetic like that, and I wanted something that was fun and energetic. I was surprised at the stories [that came out after]. I just went to London with a piece of music. I didn’t expect to get so much support from the Jewish community, either.

Do you already have plans for the Rio games?

No, I have to make the team again. I still have to prove myself, because I took a year off. I have to prove that I’m the same or better than I was before. It’s a five-girl team, and there’s a lot of girls that want that spot. You are a piece of a puzzle, and my best events are floor and beam, so hopefully I’ll make it.

Where are you training?

I started training again at Brestyans by the Burlington Mall, and I’m feeling pretty good. Being back in the gym now feels amazing.

What is training like?

A few days a week I do two-a-days, so I’ll go from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then come home and take a nap, and then be back at the gym from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. By the end of the day, I am so exhausted that I thank god I survived the day. It is literally exhausting. In the morning we do 30 minutes of conditioning, then events, then more conditioning, and then you do all four events [balance beam, floor, uneven bars, and vault]. I have to work every part of my body for gymnastics. I work on my ankles, calves, knees, quads, and butt. We rarely use weights because gymnastics is all about lifting your own body weight. If I do use any weights, it’s just for arm circles with three- or five-pound weights or squats with a medicine ball.

Are there any types of exercises or workouts that you like to do that have nothing to do with your training?

I like the treadmill. Seriously! But I’m not someone who can just run for 40 minutes straight. I find that really boring. So I do 30-second sprinting intervals and put the treadmill on an incline. I try to do the treadmill for an hour on Sundays, which is my off day.

So on your off day, you do intervals on an incline on the treadmill for an hour? That doesn’t seem like much of a break. 

It feels good, and it’s alone time. I’ve also tried yoga couple of times, but I’m so bad at it. It’s embarrassing. My body hurts more after yoga because it puts my body in all these positions that I’m not used to.

OK, I have to ask: How do you get your hair and makeup to look so perfect? After tumbling and sweating and being covered in chalk, your makeup still looks amazing. How is this possible?

We all did our own hair and makeup ourselves. For team finals, we were wearing red leotards so we all started with red lipstick, but it wore off quickly. I like a more natural look, barely anything on my eyes and just a little mascara. For hair, I’ll just put like 15 hair elastics in my hair to keep it secure. Sometimes it’s so tight I have to take Advil because I get a headache, but I don’t want “gymnastics hair” which is cutting it short. But one funny thing was that all of the girls used my bronze eyeshadow from Sephora and we were doing so well, it became a superstition to keep using it for the rest of the Olympics.

So it was a lucky eyeshadow?

Yeah, and I still have it in a drawer, but I won’t use it again.

Do people still stop you in the streets for photos and autographs?

They do, but I like it. I never get annoyed about it at all because I remember being the person who was asking for the autographs. When I’m having a rough day, I will force myself to watch a video to remind myself what I accomplished. It never sinks in; it still hasn’t.

Photo by John Cheng/USA Gymnastics