Aly Raisman: How I handle the pressure of Olympic trials
For the 15 women competing at next week's U.S. Olympic trials in gymnastics, this competition is about as stressful as it gets. The U.S. program is so strong that making the Olympic team might be harder than winning a medal in Rio. Previous Olympians Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, as well as three-time world all-around champion Simone Biles, are looking like they'll be named to what is a five-member team.
How are the gymnasts dealing with it? We posed the question to two-time Olympic gold medalist Raisman, now in the thick of her second Olympic selection process. Raisman won the all-around title at the Secret U.S. Classic last month, then impressed again with a second-place finish at last week's P&G Championships (U.S. nationals). She offered these tips on how elite gymnasts keep from going crazy during the sport's most competitive season.
Let it go, as much as you possibly can
The workouts get more intense as the Olympics get closer, and you get the feeling that every turn you take counts toward earning yourself a place on the team. Everyone has bad practices, but I sometimes find bad practices so devastating and still get upset after all these years. And I have a couple of those every week!
I've worked hard at learning to let things go. Going for an Olympic team is an exhausting process, mentally and physically. Resting as much as possible, mentally and physically, is uber-important. Walking outside or sitting in my backyard by the pool goes a long way toward helping me unwind.
Avoid social media
Everyone has a Facebook/Instagram/YouTube account, and everyone posts videos of their training updates. While Facebook or Instagram-stalking is tantalizing, it's just not a good idea. Occasionally, Simone Biles sends me a video of someone doing something cool, and I'll watch, but I try to take it for what it is: a training video. The best way to compete is to focus on yourself, and if you're doing your job, you're helping the team. The whole U.S. team has that mentality: Competing with yourself is how you can be the best version of yourself. In other words, you have to stay in your own bubble, or you'll drive yourself crazy.
Keep the press at bay
Eat, sleep, work out, repeat -- that's my life right now. I stopped doing photo shoots in May and have been picky about interviews, just because I'm trying not to add any extra pressure on myself. It's not that we don't like the publicity -- quite the opposite! Admittedly, it's very cool to see yourself in ad campaigns. I'm currently in the window of Aeropostale stores in America, which provides a "pinch me" feeling every time someone sends me a photo of themselves in front of a store window. But it also adds to the pressure a lot when you see your photo all over the place.
As for what's written about the U.S. and our chances of repeating as Olympic gold medalists, I don't pay too much attention to it. I'm trying to rest as much as I can and not overthink what's to come. Everyone will tell you the same. Our team camaraderie is really good: All of us girls are sticking together and trying to help each other get through the selection process.
Take time for the things you love
I've channeled my love of fashion into designing my own competition leotards. This year at nationals, I planned two very different looks: one in coral (it's a color not a lot of people wear in competition, and it really pops) and a patriotic white, red and blue one with lace flower appliqués and a nude back inspired by a wedding gown I saw in a magazine. I loved stepping out onto the floor in these leotards, and planning them provided a fun distraction from the stress before the meet. The floor exercise is my red carpet to show off my style!
This can be really hard, but we aren't expected to be completely perfect at each meet. Even at trials, I'm guessing the selection committee would rather see us at 90-95 percent so we can be 100 percent in Rio if we make the team. We do need to be consistent -- major mistakes are still bad -- and you have to show you can handle the pressure of these big meets. But you don't have to be perfect -- yet.
Remember the light at the end of the tunnel
I've been here before. The Olympic selection process was just as harrowing in 2012, and it was all worth it. Don't get me wrong: It's a stressful and exhausting process, but at the same time, it's incredible to see all the hard work coming together. It comforts me when I have a tough day that I can look back and remember I had those same days four years ago. But one thing is for sure: As soon as I have a few days to myself post-Rio, I'm going on vacation. As ultimately rewarding as the Olympic trials process is, knowing that it comes to an end is also a great comfort!