“Aly is a good soul,” says her longtime coach, Mihai Brestyan, who watched her TD Garden performance from the unfamiliar perch of the audience. “She could be stuck up with all this attention,” he says, pushing up his nose with his pointer finger. “But she has remained true to herself.”
At home, her highs are a lot lower-profile. On this mid-November afternoon following the Boston show, she is grateful simply to be able to relax with her three younger siblings and three of her friends who had crashed there the night before — two former high school classmates and fellow Fierce Fiver Jordyn Wieber.
Working on computers at a curved desk behind the couch are Raisman’s parents, Rick and Lynn. The couple became an Internet sensation when the clip of their nervous swaying and exaggerated wincing during Aly’s qualifying round went viral. (“Stick it! Stick it!’’) Some viewers assumed they must have been the ultimate stage parents, but Aly says her drive has always been internal. “Maybe in that video they looked a little bit crazy, but they’re not like that at all,” she says. “I’m glad they showed that video,” because it reflects the reality of the worry coursing through everyone’s veins. “We’re nervous. Our parents are nervous,” Aly says. “It’s a normal thing.”
Although little about her life is normal these days, she hopes eventually to go to college and “be a regular kid.” When her 16-year-old brother begins going on campus tours, she plans to tag along, looking for herself. Yet she also hopes to make another Olympic run in Rio. She says she thinks the second time would be easier, “not easier physically but maybe easier mentally.”
Kayla Harrison also plans to train for the 2016 Games. Regardless of what happens in Rio, both Aly and Kayla will forever be Olympic champions, even if their white-hot celebrity will one day cool down.
As highly sought after as she is, Harrison knows what most people want from her is simply to touch her gold medal, which she has playfully named Fred. Harrison asks: “Does it get old when they say, ‘Oh, my God, your medal is so heavy!’?” (The thing weighs nearly a pound.) “Yes. But still, I’m not suffering. And I bring them a little bit of happiness.”
Besides, there are a ton of top-tier competitors, especially men in this year of the female athlete, who wish they had a Fred in their lives.