ALY: I speak on behalf of all the girls when I say we are more nervous to go to training camps than we are to compete at the Olympics. Its more intimidating, training camps, than actually competing.
[EXPRESS YOURSELF INTRO MUSIC]
JESSICA: This week, Aly Raisman updates us on everything from quad twisting fulls to why Mihai sometimes calls her chicken.
ALLISON TAYLOR: Hey gymnasts, Elite Sportz Band is a cutting edge compression back warmer that can protect your most valued asset: your back. Im Allison Taylor on behalf of Elite Sportz Band. Visit elitesportzband.com. Weve got your back.
JESSICA: This is episode 77 for February 19, 2014. Im Jessica from masters-gymnastics
BLYTHE: Im Blythe from the Gymnastics Examiner
JESSICA: And this is the best gymnastics podcast on the planet, bringing you all the news from around the gymternet. Were changing things up today. Were going to first talk to Aly Raisman in this episode. Im going to ask her some of your questions and Blythe will interview her. Then in the second episode later this week, were going to give a preview of the Winter Cup which happens this week in Vegas. Were going to talk about the poor guy from Air Force whose pants fell down while he was doing rings. Were going to answer your letters and questions. We talk about the receipt system theyre using in the UK. Oh my god my dream come true. And well talk about the epic battle at Metroplex that happened between LSU and Oklahoma. And of course well discuss all the news thats fit to gym nerd out about. Until then enjoy the interview with Aly. And remember you can support the show by shopping in our Amazon store. You can review us, write a review on iTunes or Stitcher. You can skip the hassle of shopping on our Amazon button by just donating directly if you want to. You can leave us a message or email us. Our number is 415-800-3191. Were also on Skype, the username is GymCastic Podcast. And every single week we put up little clips on Instagram so you can check those out. Theres a video of the guy from Air Force who lost his pants this week. And of course theres always transcripts on our site and more info there. Ill see you guys later this week with Uncle Tim and Evan Heiter. Until then, enjoy the interview with Aly.
BLYTHE: This interview with two time Olympic champion Aly Raisman is brought to you by Tumbl Trak. In honor of Alys discussion of her improved flexibility and toe point in todays interview, Id like to suggest checking out Tumbl Traks sliders. Sliders are similar to slippery furniture movers. These are nine inch long pads which are slippery on the bottom and have comfortable padded anti slip surface on top. They can be used on carpet and are great for conditioning as well as flexibility training. I find these especially useful for working on the dreaded straddle split. I put one slider on each foot and with these tools I cant cheat no matter how much I want to. My feet slide out as far as they can no matter what. Sliders allow me to keep up my flexibility and prevent injury as I get older. Use sliders for lunges, core strengthening shaping exercises, and valuable tumbling drills like needle kicks and aerials. Check the out at Tumbl Trak. Thats tumbltrak.com. Tumbl Trak, do it again.
BLYTHE: 2012 double Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman needs little introduction, but well do one anyway. Two years ago in London, Raisman clinched the Fierce Five gold medal run with a lights out floor routine and closed out her Olympics with a second spectacular floor set, winning gold medal on her best event. With her two golds plus bronze on balance beam, Raisman was the most decorated American gymnast in London. However, she mightve had one more medal, but Olympic tie break rules left her fourth in the womens all around final when she and Aliya Mustafina tallied the same score over the four events. Thats part of the reason why Raisman is back in the gym and hungry for new accomplishments in the sport. Aly, its a pleasure to have you on the show and thank you for being here today. So my first question is so we havent seen you around that much since the Antwerp World Championships. And it was great to catch up with you there. But I know one thing people are going to want to know right off the bat is how are you doing right now, hows training going, and you said in Antwerp that hopefully you might be back by Classics, Nationals, is that still the plan?
ALY: Yes it is still the plan. Trainings been going great. I practiced this morning then Im going again tonight. So I feel really really good. And its been really exciting to be watching the Olympics at the same time, getting back into the gym, because its such great motivation. But I love gymnastics. I look forward to going to gym every day. So Ive been really really happy and I kind of feel like a little kid again in the gym. So its been great.
BLYTHE: Its not been hard at all to go back to that tough training schedule after being able to take some really deserved time off?
ALY: Definitely has been hard. But I think for me just the hardest thing is practicing so many hours a week getting used to doing all those hours again. For me doing the skills that I havent done since the Olympics, its a little bit scary but everything feels the same. And some things feel a little bit even better because I had a lot of time off and I learned so much over the past year. But its definitely just more Im exhausted all the time but its a good exhausting. I feel really its like you have that feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day, so Im really happy.
BLYTHE: Understood. And I read an interview with you kind of recently where you said some of your skills came back easily and others were a little harder to get back. And please go ahead and gym nerd out with us. We really want to know what was easy, like specifically, and whats taken longer?
ALY: Well, I think its actually kind of funny because the first few weeks going back up on the high beam it was like a lot more scary than I couldve imagined. Because beam is one of my favorite events. But after taking a year up, going back up on the high beam and doing simple things, like doing jumps and front tucks and back handsprings, stuff that used to be easy, it was a little scary for me. I forgot how narrow and high it was. But now that Im, now it feels old. I still dont have of course fully all my skills back because I have to make sure I get all my strength and everything back. But my tumbling on floor I think has been the easiest to get back. There are still twisting and stuff is harder but the flipping stuff has been easier for me.
BLYTHE: Did you really take a year where you didnt go into the gym at all? Or were you doing just a little on the side? How was that arranged for you?
ALY: I was working out. I worked out as much as I could a couple times a week. But I was literally traveling so so much it was crazy. I was like in a different state every single day. With the long flights I tried to get in as much as I could but sometimes those hotel gyms, its nothing like actually training. Those six or seven hours of training I was used to. So it was definitely different but at the same time it was a little bit nice to have a break. And I have to say when I did Dancing with the Stars I gained a ton of flexibility and my toe point got better from wearing those heels. But my feet are so strong I do so many toe rises and so much conditioning by my toe point it [inaudible].
BLYTHE: How have you adapted to being a little bit older and being an elite gymnast? Has it changed anything, your training regimen?
ALY: I think its actually helping. I remember I asked Kyla after she came back the quickest out of all of us and I asked how it was and she said she felt better than she ever felt before. And I kind of agree. I feel like Im wiser now. I feel more confident. I feel more calm. And I still want it more than ever you know. Just because I did well in London I still have that same drive and I still have that same determination. And I feel, I just feel really good. I feel the most confident Ive felt in my life. And I just feel really happy and I can look back regardless of what happens and Im going to give it my all. And Ill work just as hard as I did before and hope for the best. Thats all I can do, Im only human.
BLYTHE: Yeah. And so was there any struggle with motivation? I mean you came home from London with two gold medals, and we talked to Nastia a little bit about this as well. When she said gosh I achieved everything I wanted to achieve so where do you go after that. So for you maybe its a little different because your Olympic experience in the all around was a little different. But I dont want to put words in your mouth. So I mean what keeps you going back to the gym every day for all those hours?
ALY: I do think [inaudible] agree its never enough. I mean it was so amazing and I was so excited to be able to finally just be able to achieve my lifelong dream with my teammates. That was just so exciting and I would love to be able to share that experience with those girls again. And I guess also you know the all around competition it didnt go as well as I couldve hoped for. And I mean of course I wish I couldve gotten that bronze medal. And they did break the tie and its a bummer that gymnastics is the only sport that breaks the tie out of any Olympic sport. But you know I was really happy that at least Gabby won the gold medal. Shes amazing. And it was an awesome day for her. So she deserved it.
BLYTHE: Yeah definitely. What about new skills. Is there anything you would like to learn? Is there anything youve always wanted to learn that just didnt fit in with what you were doing at the time? Can you give us any hints on what we might see from you this year, next year?
ALY: Im not exactly sure. Mihai and Sylvie my coaches are always thinking of crazy [inaudible]. I remember when they first had the idea to do my first pass on floor. Everyone literally was just laughing and thought it was the craziest idea ever. But they were of course totally serious. So theyre always thinking of new things. But right now Im really just trying to get back what I had before then hopefully within the next few months I can learn some new stuff. But I guess right now the main focus Ive been working on is the connections on beam because they changed the rules and you have to really make sure you connect everything super super fast. You cant just do a front tuck into a back tuck and swing your arms really really slow. It used to be as long as you were constantly moving it was fine. Now they changed that. So its a little bit harder because I was used to that. And then you know getting used to new rules on floor how you have to start in the corner on one leg. Then they just changed it you cant go back and forth. So its all these crazy rules I have to get used to. But its a fun challenge.
BLYTHE: Yeah. Yeah its been a bit puzzling with the new code. I know a lot of fans are going to want to know about your floor routine. And you are getting a new one is that correct?
ALY: Yes I am getting a new one
BLYTHE: Can you tell us about what thats going to be like? Anything at all. Music, choreography. I think back in October you called it girly if I remember correctly.
ALY: I did find floor music. And Im going to stay with the folk music because that seemed to work the best for me in the past. [inaudible] different stuff but folk music worked the best and I loved when the crowd clapped along. It makes me happy. And I think the folk music is something that no matter where you are from around the world its a song everyone can relate to. And everyone- I kind of want to be if youre not paying attention you go to meets and you want to look on the floor to see whos going. So I love folk music but I havent gotten my floor routine choreographed yet or anything but Im really really looking forward to it. And I think its Russian music so it should be pretty cool.
BLYTHE: Nice. Are you shopping around for a choreographer?
ALY: No my coach Sylvie does it. She choreographed- shes always choreographed my routines so shes going to choreograph this one.
BLYTHE: Oh terrific. One thing I did want to ask you actually was about, I had an Alicia question as a matter of fact. She gave you a lot of advice in the early stages of your career, thats obvious. And now youre kind of on the other side of that. Youre the experienced one. And the girls who are going to challenge you for spots on world team, Olympic team, are going to be younger and less experienced. And I was just wondering if you guys had talked about how youre going to deal with that part of it, doing gymnastics as a woman when many of your competitors are younger and able to do more repetitions.
ALY: Well actually I still pretty much have been doing a lot of the same repetitions as before. But I mean I think honestly as long as I know regardless what happens as long as I know I worked so hard its going to be the best girl wins. So Im always a good sport even if I dont want- if someone gets a spot over me, the ultimate goal is to get the best girls to represent team USA. And I think what people dont understand is even though were competing for the same spot or competing against each other we are all ultimately a team and thats always how I thought about it. You cant win and you cant do well if youre not a team and you dont work together. And Im looking forward to the next few years and hopefully making a championship team and the next Olympics. But Im also excited because these younger girls are absolutely amazing. Im excited to go back to training camp. Im not sure when Im going to go next. But just to see them, we take each other to the next level. And we have those once a month. [inaudible] on tour, and they said they all look amazing. So Im really excited to see what theyve been up to and work really really hard. So its really, its a great atmosphere that we have down there.
BLYTHE: Back to the Olympics for a second. Can you talk about the qualification round? And you really had the four events of your life. Everything was spot on. And Ive always wanted to ask you, given that you came in third at Nationals and third at Trials, did you expect to make the all around final when it was two per country that advanced?
ALY: Well actually Ive always gotten third place at Nationals every single year. So in 2010 I got third at Nationals and I advanced to the all around finals. 2011 I got third at Nationals and advanced to the all around finals. So of course I was hoping and it wasnt something that was like, it wasnt out of the question for me but I knew that Gabby and Jordyn were extremely prepared and they were the favorites going in. So it was going to be really difficult. But I kind of just honestly I had no idea. I wasnt looking at the scores or anything. Im not someone who likes to watch scores. I just kind of like to take it one event and one step at a time so I just remember I was nervous to do my floor routine last because I, the last event, because I just wanted to make sure I made floor finals. So, I think for me it was like I just tried not to think about it so much. And I was hoping that if I did a good meet it would be good enough. But I dont know it was just kind of so crazy that day. It was like in the blink of an eye everything happened.
BLYTHE: Yeah, it was crazy. And that bar routine especially really have to hand it to you. It was, I thought, the best that you had ever done it.
ALY: Oh thank you. Thank you so much.
BLYTHE: Did you have any inkling after that? Or was it just you were totally focused on floor and kind of going through the other events and thinking about floor? Even if you werent looking at the scoreboards, did you have any idea like hey things are going pretty well today?
ALY: I to be honest with you Im not even that sure. I just remember my goal going in, it was to make all around finals. It was to make beam and floor finals. And I was hoping that. But I knew that also its just for Martha its so important for all of us to be really consistent. So I just wanted to show everyone and have all the girls I wanted all of us to hit all of our events to show that we were really prepared and really strong. But its crazy. I mean I never, it was just like a dream come true. I never wouldve imagined it. It was better than I expected.
BLYTHE: Speaking of Martha, the media kind of likes to make Martha out as a fearsome figure. And when youre 13, 14, and you start going to these camps, how do you perceive Martha as a young gymnast? Is she scary?
ALY: I think every single gymnast really really respects Martha. I was that kid, I watched the 96 Olympics over and over and over again. So I remember watching Martha and Bela on TV all the time. To be able to be actually coached by Martha and Bela comes into the gym every now and then, its so exciting and it never gets old. Its so cool and so surreal, sometimes you just have to sit there and really take in that youre training at the national team training center. Its really, its quite amazing to think about it. I love Martha. Shes amazing. Shes always so caring to all of us. She always has our best interests and shes amazing, the way that she prepares us for every single competition. I speak on behalf of all the girls when I say we are more nervous to go to training camp than we are to compete at the Olympics. Its more intimidating at training camps than actually like competing and so that has helped us so much. And I think thats why the US girls are very consistent when they compete. Its because Martha is just so good at what she does. She always has us practice our pressure sets. We always have to compete in front of her, at least one routine on an event every single day so you feel really confident and you feel really ready by the time the meet comes.
BLYTHE: Thats a tough question. When did you see that video of your parents watching your bar routine in the prelims?
ALY: I think I actually saw it that day. Someone showed it to me and I think it was just like everywhere. I didnt really go on the internet or anything. Im so glad. I didnt realize how big the Olympics were. I guess I just didnt really want to really realize that, so Im glad that none of us were really searching ourselves on the internet or something. We really just stayed kind of to ourselves. We were kind of like closed off which was good. But I had no idea that it went so viral. And its so funny now to be watching the NBC coverage and to see the commercial. I saw it today and yesterday. Its crazy. I was saying to my mom, I started crying. I would never imagine that one day my bar routine would be in a commercial. I mean who would have thought? Just thinking of all the hard days I had on bars and how much it was just like a hard event for me. I was so afraid of it. So to think a few years later, its crazy. But my parents look absolutely psycho in it but I promise theyre very supportive and awesome. They were more nervous than I was.
BLYTHE: I thought it was a very sweet video. I think most people did. Okay so heres the one question that maybe you dont want to answer. And you are under no obligation to answer this. But the night of Olympic prelims, because you were rooming with Jordyn in the Olympic village, how did you guys deal with that? After youd done the media thing, youd been in the mixed zone, youd gotten through, youd given your interviews, what happened?
ALY: Well I just remember, after prelims, when we got back, we all just went into, we got to go into a different training room. We all went there together. We were all just playing around and laughing. Me and Jordyn are best friends and I think shes the most amazing friend in the world. She was so supportive and so amazing and so nice. And I feel like she handled it better than anyone else in the world could. And I remember when Gabby won, she was the first person to stand up and cheer for her. Jordyn is the most amazing person. I cant thank her enough for how much of a good sport she was for it. I wish that all five of us could have competed in the all around. I think that the rules are unfair. I think the two per country rule is so tough. Its so hard to make the top two. Its so crazy. I wish that they would change the rules.
BLYTHE: One thing youre really noted for for doing well is dealing with pressure. The pressure of being at a world championships, throughout the whole Olympic trials process. I mean there were just no mistakes from you. And in trying to make a comeback, are you feeling pressure now? And if you are, how are you dealing with it?
ALY: Right now, I feel fine. Im not thinking about competing right this second. Im just really trying to take every day one day at a time. I feel really lucky that I have such great coaches and I really have good communication with my two coaches which is really important. Im always telling them if I feel tired or if somethings a little bit sore, just because I took so much time off. You know, the first few months when youre back, you cant go full . I cant just walk in and start doing my floor routine. It takes months and months and months. So Im just trying to make sure I get a lot of repetition. Right now, Im just doing skills separately, just trying to make sure that I have that consistency. But Im confident that if I work as hard as I did before, that hopefully I can compete the same, just trusting my coaches and myself.
BLYTHE: Hows Mihai doing? Has your coach athlete relationship changed at all?
ALY: Mihais awesome. Its gotten better if anything. I feel so lucky that I have such a great relationship with both my coaches. Sylvie and I were extremely close too. We always were talking about clothes and fashion. And Sylvies so funny. She loves to go shopping. I dont really go shopping that much because I like to just rest especially when Im training so much. Id rather just relax. But if I ever go out and I see something, I always send her pictures and were always texting each other on the weekends of things that we like or things that we see online and stuff. So I feel really lucky that Im able to, I can literally tell them anything. Mihais so funny. He always asks me if I have a professional hockey or football boyfriend yet. Im like nope. No, Mihai. Thanks for asking me every day though.
BLYTHE: Not yet.
BLYTHE: So what are you studying? Youre still at Babson College, is that correct?
ALY: Yes. Im taking an English class there right now on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. And its really close to my house so I got lucky there. Its a great school and Im excited. Its good to have a balance and make sure that Im able to do school at the same time because I love school. I love learning and its also nice just to make new friends. I love making new friends and talking and having a good balance between gym and school.
BLYTHE: We ask all the Olympians who come on the show this. So partying in the Olympic village, does it happen? Did you see any of it? Did you do any of it?
ALY: Everyone always asks me that. People dont realize how innocent the gymnasts are. I cant even tell you how innocent the five of us were in London. I think I am pretty innocent, all of us. I honestly didnt see any of it. We went to the closing ceremonies and that was just like a huge concert. It was really fun but honestly, our idea of fun was just hanging out with each other. I was on like cloud nine for three months after the Olympics because I just felt I had 200 pounds lifted off my shoulders. I felt so relaxed and so calm. So I honestly didnt see any of that but I hear its a thing so Im not really sure.
BLYTHE: Maybe next time?
ALY: Im not really much of a partier to be honest with you. Its not really my, I just like hanging out. Id rather go to bed early and have like a cup of tea. Im like an old lady.
BLYTHE: Awesome. Well we have some listener questions for Aly.
JESSICA: Yes we do. Okay so the number one thing that everyone wanted to know is are you working on any new skills or has there ever been a skill that you are working on that no one knows about that you never got to put in a routine but it was like a fantasy skill that you were working on in the background?
ALY: Let me think. I am working on a few new skills and a few new connections on beam but Im very very secretive about what Im working on because I just feel like Im going to jinx it or something. On floor, pretty much right now, Im just working on getting everything that I have back. I think Im getting my first pass back on floor is going to take quite some time. Its just basically right now making sure I do a ton of conditioning and really working on all of those connections on beam. But its fun to try and learn new skills but its also scary learning them.
BLYTHE: Im so sorry to cut you off. I wanted to ask about your 3.5 twist. You said that back in like 2009 or so, but we never saw it again.
ALY: I know. Thats such a hard skill. I havent been working on it but. Mihais even had me try quads, I was trying those a little bit in 2012. But I couldnt finish it all the way around. I thought it was impossible but then some guy at world championships did it. I think he was from Korea or Japan. I dont remember but he won floor. He was like absolutely amazing. He stuck his last pass. Its like really hard. You have to get like the perfect block.
BLYTHE: To do it as the last pass too, man.
ALY: Its crazy. I dont know how he does it. A double pike is my last pass and its a struggle for me.
JESSICA: Were going to have to talk to him and get his secrets and then we will pass them on to you.
ALY: I know! It was so easy for him!
JESSICA: It does. I dont know. Hes insane. Were going to talk to him. Speaking of Worlds, and so you totally do not have to answer this but of course a lot of our listeners wanted to know your opinion on the age controversy with some of the Chinese gymnasts like Shang Chunsong, which of course is no reflection on them as gymnasts. Theyre just doing their gymnastics. Its the way that, some Communist countries work that way. Do you have thoughts on that?
ALY: I try not to think about it so much. We have to compete against them either way. I hope that they are the right age and I hope that everyone is following the rules. But like you said, its not the girls fault. They dont have a choice and they are amazing gymnasts. Theyre incredible. Theyre unbelievable. I love watching them, especially on bars and beam. Theyre so so good. Mihai always uses the Chinese as an example for me on my beam routine in the back handspring layout because they do theirs so beautifully. I learn from them. I think theyre incredible. Like you said, its not their fault. If they are the right age, thats awesome. I hope that they are.
JESSICA: Yeah I hear you. Okay so the other question. This is a delicate one. You do not have to answer this one either. As fans, a lot of our listeners, they want the best. You know, when you love an athlete, we want the best for you. We want to make everything perfect for you. So a lot of our listeners wanted to ask about bars for you. They see the similarity between your bars and like Talias bars and Alicias bars and anything special youre working on for bars or if you get extra tutoring at the Ranch when you go for bars. How do you feel about bars?
ALY: I think every gymnast has an event that, you cant be exactly even on all four events. Thats really really difficult. For me, the way I think about it and the way that Mihai and Sylvie always say is just like I really especially work on the events that I would be used in for team final. So thats the priority. So for example definitely on floor and beam was the ones that I competed on and hopefully on vault. And bars is an event that hopefully will be used for all around but its not like theyre ever going to use me in a team final on bars. So the priority is always team comes first and then I do work on bars. I work on it so much the year of the Olympics. I literally did it twice a day every single day. I was exhausted. I was doing five to eight routines when I used to do three or four a day. So I really gave it my all and I look back and I have absolutely no regrets. Im so happy and I see the improvement so much. If you watch my bar routine from 2009 just to 2012, it was such a big improvement. I try not to be so hard on myself because I know that you cant be perfect at everything. Im really pleased with how I did. Im happy that at least my floor was good enough and hopefully in the near future I can improve my bars more but Im doing the best that I can.
JESSICA: I like that youre defending your bars when youre fourth place in the all around at the Olympics. No big deal.
ALY: Its so funny. Sometimes Ill catch myself when I talk, Im like, I still had the third highest score in the world and they bumped the tie down to fourth. But either way, 2011 Worlds I was fourth and in 2012 I was fourth. And even though thats a disappointment, fourth in the world and to be able to stay in the same place every year, its good but I dont always see it like that because Im a perfectionist. So its kind of like a little struggle for me. I try to be positive about it but at the same time its still a little bit frustrating.
JESSICA: And that explains why youre such an incredible gymnast because youre like fourth in the world, oh no I can do better! So thats awesome. I think you have a really healthy attitude about it. I think our listeners will be happy to hear that thats how you see it. So thats good. One final question. The one thing weve talked about is kind of dealing with fear as youve come back. And thats something weve asked some other Olympians about. Its so shocking to us and a lot of our listeners that any of you have any fear. How have you conquered fear in the past and are you using those same techniques now?
ALY: When I was younger, I used to watch the Olympics or baseball or basketball or anything I used to think that if you were a professional athlete and youre on TV, you were perfect. You never had a bad day. You were never afraid of anything. Thats so not true. I think people would be shocked to see how afraid the five of us were to do so many different things. We were all afraid to do the 2.5 on vault. Except that I dont think that McKayla was afraid of it because it was so easy for her. Shes so good at it. I just remember that we would all just work together. I always talked to my coaches if Im afraid to do something. They always helped me or my teammates who cheered each other on. I think thats why I feel so close to the girls I was on the team at the Olympics. Were all scared. Its the Olympics. Its definitely terrifying to think that you work your whole life for something and its finally here. We didnt take it as we were all competing against each other. We worked together. We all worked as hard as we possibly could and we all pushed each other to the next level in the best way and the healthiest way possible.
ALLISON TAYLOR: This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. elitesportzband.com. Weve got your back.
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com., thats sports with a z and save $5 on your next purchase with the code Gymcast.
Stay tuned for more Gymcastic coming up later this week and be on the lookout for live feed from Winter Cup. Crossing our fingers that the wifi in the new venue is fantastic and Scott Bregman can pull it off. So see you guys later this week. Thanks for listening!