RIO DE JANEIRO — Simone Biles walked into Aly Raisman’s room in the Olympic Village on Thursday morning and said, “I have a pretty good feeling about today.”
“Me too,” Raisman replied.
With gold and silver medals around their necks at Rio Olympic Arena, they lived up to each other’s expectations in the women’s gymnastics all-around final.
For Raisman, the journey to the podium in Rio started in London. At the Olympics four years ago, she tied with Russia’s Aliya Mustafina for third place in the all-around final but lost out on bronze due to a tie-breaker.
“I feel like I’m better than I am in 2012 so I’m very proud of that,” Raisman says. “It’s not something that people expect or that’s easy to do after taking a year off and having it be a second Olympics or being the grandma, as they like to say. I’m happy I proved everyone wrong.”
In Tuesday’s team all-around final, there was no sense of pressure as Raisman completed her floor routine, smiling and beaming throughout. By that point, the American squad had the silver-medalist Russians beat, ultimately by more than eight points.
In the all-around final, there wasn’t that point cushion, but Raisman smiled throughout her floor routine anyway. The 21-year-old needed a minimum score of 14 on the floor event—easily attainable for the reigning Olympic gold-medalist on the floor—to surpass Mustafina for the silver medal. When she finished her routine, Raisman’s tears flowed freely as she awaited her score, and the 15.933 secured the silver medal.
“It’s a very emotional night because there’s just so many things going on,” Raisman says. “You want to do well for yourself, for your family, for your coaches and for your country. Obviously there’s a lot of pressure and then it’s a relief and tears of joy that I actually did it. ”
Raisman and Biles helped pull off the first 1–2 finish in the women’s individual all-around for Team USA since Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson did so at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Raisman remembers watching the Liukin and Johnson win as a 14-year-old. What she may have not seen coming was the meteoric rise of Biles, which has turned gymnastics into a competition for silver.
“I knew Simone was going to win and I was just hoping to get second and it’s very, very special,” Raisman says. She agrees with the fact that competing against Biles is similar to swimming against Katie Ledecky—no contest.
For a few moments Raisman’s name was atop the scoreboard. Then Biles did Biles things. Raisman held onto her teammate as they awaited the last score of the afternoon. 15.933 points for Biles for a 62.198 total—her best of her four straight world titles. She did what she was expected and Raisman earned her own silver, which she says feels like gold.
After the London Olympics, Raisman and the rest of the Fierce Five made their way around the United States on their victory tour filled with countless interviews and media commitments. Opportunities like competing on Dancing With The Stars were too good for Raisman to turn down, and time passed without being in the gym.
But the Fierce Five faded from the spotlight as stars of Olympic sports tend to do in the middle of the four-year Olympic cycle. McKayla Maroney won a gold medal on the vault at the 2013 world championships, but major injuries never allowed her to regain her form and she retired earlier this year. Jordyn Wieber, who won all-around gold at the 2011 world championships, suffered an injury and retired. Wieber is now the team manager for the UCLA Bruins, and she’ll be reunited with Fierce Five-r Kyla Ross this fall. Ross competed at the 2013 and ’14 world championships, but after not turning professional to maintain her NCAA eligibility, Ross retired from elite gymnastics to focus on competing for the Bruins.
Raisman and Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around champion, were not finished for good.
In June 2013, Raisman returned to training with coach Mihai Brestyan in Burlington, Mass. Raisman struggled with her confidence and admits that until a few weeks ago, she didn’t think she could actually make another Olympic team. Whenever doubt crept in, Brestyan would be there to reassure her of her potential.
“Me and Aly know that all the time, we are the underdogs,” Brestyan says. “The underdog sometimes bites harder.”
Typically stone-faced during competition, Brestyan let himself go and jumped with joy as Raisman completed her floor routine on Thursday.
“When you see that she is enjoying it, then you are part of the deal,” Brestyan says. “Nobody knows how much it’s you and how much it’s her. We are 100% together. Sometimes I’m 90% of it because she’s tired and doesn’t want to do it. Sometimes I’m 10% because you don’t need need to do nothing and just let her go. This time we are of the same feeling when you see her face and then you go and dance together. It’s very hard to explain and I don’t have words.”
With an all-around silver medal, Raisman left her coach at a loss for words, silenced the doubters and redeemed herself.