Aly Raisman was captain of the "Fierce Five" U.S. women's gymnastics team that won gold at the 2012 Olympics in London. After the Games, Raisman took some time off from the sport before ultimately returning to train, with an eye toward the 2016 Olympics. She will compete for the first time since London at this weekend's City of Jesolo Trophy in Italy. We caught up with Raisman on the eve of her return to find out how she was feeling. Here's what she had to say.
On Saturday I'm going to get up, eat breakfast and prepare to compete in a gymnastics competition. Just like I did for 10 years, starting when I was 8.
But everything has changed. My body is a bit older. My routines are a lot more complex. And I've got a lot of rust to shake off: It'll be the first time I put on a Team USA leotard and go out to represent my country since the 2012 Olympics.
I'm excited, and more than a little nervous, too. Because in gymnastics, you're only as good as your last competition, and without any false modesty, my last meet was a doozy.
The Olympics were everything I always dreamed they would be. Our team won the first U.S. women's team gold medal since 1996. I also won a bronze on beam and ended the Games with a gold medal on floor. It was the perfect ending to an almost-perfect Olympic experience.
It's hard to believe two and a half years have passed already, because I can remember almost every detail of those days. But it's the training and competition in the lead-up to the Games that's coming back now, because I'm living it all over again.
During the run-up to London I'd train five to seven hours almost every day, and now I've been back in the gym, putting in those hours, for quite some time. I used to wake up in the middle of the night and lie in bed, thinking about how I wanted to do my routines and what it would be like to win at the Olympics. I'm back to doing that, too. Whoever said that elite-level athletes eat, breathe and sleep their sport wasn't joking. It's all-consuming, and can be very daunting at times.
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No matter what you've done in the past, getting back to the Olympics means going out and proving that you deserve to be on the team all over again. What I'll be attempting to do in Jesolo is a first step toward that goal. A fantastic team of U.S. juniors and seniors will be competing, including my Olympic teammate Gabby Douglas, the women's all-around gold medalist from London. This weekend will be Gabby's first time back competing since the Games as well, and we're so excited (and again, just a little nervous) about it. She's my roommate here in Italy, and I'm grateful to be able to do this with her.
When you've already had a fantastic Olympic experience, people remember you for the way you were. I know people will be expecting to see the same Aly Raisman they saw in 2012 this weekend, and though I've worked hard to build my level back up and feel ready to compete internationally, I'm not at 100 percent just yet. This is just another step in the comeback. Still, it's a big, very public one, and I know many eyes will be on me.
Some things will be different: I have a new floor routine, to traditional Russian music, in a similar style to the "Hava Nagila" music I used at the Olympics. I also have a new tumbling pass -- a double layout -- which is so cool, and so exhausting. It'll be my third pass in my floor routine.
My goal isn't necessarily to win -- though every gymnast wants to win at least a little bit -- but to show everyone, especially U.S. National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi, that I can handle doing big gymnastics on the international stage again. Martha likes it when team members not only do big skills, but look calm doing them. That's why you don't see us doing pre-routine rituals after we salute the judges to begin, or shifting around nervously. Even if you don't feel calm, fake it, Martha always tells us.
So that's what I'll do. On Saturday I'll be performing as best I can, testing the waters, faking it a little, and seeing what happens. It'll be a big step for me, and will show me where I need to go from here to -- fingers crossed -- earn a place on the 2016 Rio team.