The Interview: Aly Raisman

This summer the Needham native dominated the Olympics. Was it the veteran gymnast’s final act, or is she just warming up?

How often are you on the road?

Since December I’ve been away from home every two or three weeks. It’s been really exhausting, but there were a lot of competitions. I competed 10 times in the eight months leading up to the Olympics.

What’s one thing you always travel with?

I’m very girly, so I always like to bring my facemask, my skin-care products, and conditioning treatments for my hair because we’re always sweating, there’s the chalk in the gym, and my hair is up in a bun. When I’m not at the gym, I like to relax and take a bath.

Your teammates lovingly wrote you a letter that was addressed to “Mama Aly.” How do you think about aging when you’re competing in a sport in which a 22-year-old is considered a veteran?

I just try to ignore it. It was really only the media who were saying I was too old. They don’t come to practice with me every day and they don’t see anything except when I compete every few months. I knew I was in the best shape of my life at the Olympics, and that’s kind of all that matters to me. As long as you’re confident and your coaches and family believe in you, you’re all set. It wasn’t something that got me upset. I found it funny and used it to fuel myself as motivation. It’s kind of good when you prove everyone else wrong.

The average American gets hooked on gymnastics every time the Summer Olympics come around. But then it never seems to last. Do you see that changing?

I think it has really become more popular this time. If you look at the social media followers of my teammates and me, four out of five of us have over one million followers. Simone has over 3 million followers on Instagram. That’s pretty impressive for a team that’s [performing] once every four years. It’s definitely getting bigger, and social media helps a lot with our generation. I’m sure there are a lot of little girls who are starting gymnastics after watching the Olympics, which is great and exciting.

Are you constantly checking Instagram and Snapchat?

I enjoy social media because it’s a good way to interact with your fans and the younger gymnasts all over the country, but when I’m with my family or friends I just put my phone away. Everyone is glued to their phones all the time, so I think it’s important for everyone to take a step back. Be in the moment, not on your phone.

Even though you’re both on the same team, is it intimidating when you have to go up against all-around gold medal winner Simone Biles?

When I’m competing, I’m competing with Simone. I don’t think about competing against her because that’s not my goal. We make sure we both feel calm and that we’re both relaxed, which is an important thing to do when you’re at such a big competition. But we always have a lot of fun together when we’re training. You know, she’s really energetic and has a big personality. She’s always laughing and smiling, so it’s good that we have each other. When one of us is having a little bit of an off day, we can just cheer each other up.

Tell me about the cross-country tour you and your teammates are embarking on.

Well, we’re going on a 36-city tour called the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions. It’s [for three months], and there are actually two shows in Boston because Boston was the most successful stop that we had by far in 2012.

Is it more fun to do something like this because you have some freedom to do moves you wouldn’t get to do in competition?

It’s definitely more laid-back and more fun. It’s kind of a combination of gymnastics and dances. I’ll still be doing my floor routine, but the rest of it is more dancing and fun stuff with the five of us. It’s definitely a cool variety.

What do you miss most about home when you’re traveling?

I miss how my backyard at home is very private. I like lying out by the pool, and I miss going to the Cape in the summer because the Cape is so beautiful and I have a lot of family friends there.

What’s the fastest way to make Aly Raisman angry?

When I’m trying to rest and people are not letting me rest, or they’re being too loud. You know, there’s nothing worse than when you can’t sleep because someone is being too loud.

How do you get into competition mode? Do you psych yourself up?

I just try to breathe deeply and think positive thoughts. There’s really nothing I do differently for competition, because if you do something different, you’re at risk for making a mistake in the routine. We kind of train every day like we’re competing, so by the time the meet comes we’re really confident and not nervous. Well, we’re obviously nervous, but we just think about doing the same thing we do every single day in the gym.

How do you think about the future and what’s next?

I’m going to do exactly what I did in 2012 and take a break from gymnastics and then kind of reevaluate everything. My body feels healthy; I feel good. I’m in the best shape of my life now. I don’t think it makes sense to stop when you feel good and feel healthy. I think that if you want to retire, it should be when you absolutely can’t do it anymore and you hate it. I still love it.

Do you worry that one day you will hate it?

I think that’s why you need a break. There were days when I was 16 that it started to feel like it was a job because, I mean, you’re training seven hours some days. You don’t have a social life. So it definitely does feel like that for most gymnasts, and I’m sure for most athletes, because it just takes over your life. But you love it and there’s always something that brings you back. Maybe there are one or two days in a week when it feels like a job, but then you realize why you love it.

When you were 16, did you envision this level of success?

It has definitely exceeded my dreams. Obviously, I couldn’t have imagined that I’d have six Olympic medals, three of them gold. It’s just very crazy. It’s always something I dreamed of, but it took me so long to get there.

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo—have any plans for them?

I’m going to take the year off and then I’ll start training for it.