Aly Raisman captured two gold medals and a bronze in gymnastics at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. But it was her parents’ hilariously awkward reactions watching her compete, her choice of music for her individual floor exercise and her comments afterward that captured hearts.
Raisman, who grew up in a Reform Jewish home, won gold for her floor exercise, performed to the Israeli folk song “Hava Nagila,” during games that coincided with the 40th anniversary of the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Games.
She chose the song, she said at the time, because she is Jewish and because people could clap along to it, according to the New York Post. The timing of the floor music was “not intentional,” she told reporters after her gold-medal performance, The Jerusalem Post reported.
“But the fact it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me. If there had been a moment’s silence (for the victims), I would have supported it and respected it,” she said.
The International Olympic Committee had remembered the 1972 Israeli team at a ceremony organized by the Israeli Embassy and the London Jewish community, but declined an international campaign calling for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony. President Obama, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney all had supported the campaign.
Raisman also won a gold medal along with her fellow Team USA teammates in the team competition and a bronze medal in the balance beam in 2012. She lost a tie-breaker with Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina and took fourth in the individual all-around competition.
Since then, Raisman has appeared at the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem in 2013; on “Dancing With the Stars,” also in 2013 (she finished fourth with Mark Ballas); and in ESPN The Magazine’s “body issue” last year.
And now, four years later, the most decorated American gymnast at the London Games is one of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s 7 Jewish American Athletes to Watch in Rio. Raisman once again is competing for Team USA, once again as captain of its gymnastics team.
In addition to competing for all-around team with her fellow U.S. gymnasts, she’ll have a second shot at an all-around individual medal, qualifying alongside teammate Simon Biles Sunday (Aug. 7). She also will have the chance to defend her medal in the floor final.
At 22, Raisman is the oldest member of the team, the most racially diverse in U.S. history. Her age and her affinity for naps reportedly have earned her the nickname “Grandma” from her teammates Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian.
“Having that title of doing well at the last Olympics, it also comes with a lot of responsibility, so I want to show that I have improved the (floor) routine and I’ve made it harder than it was in 2012. It’s nice to be able to show that I’m stronger than I was when I was 18,” she told The Wall Street Journal.
Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.