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Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman Speaks at Cornell

Photo courtesy of USA Gymnastics.

Six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman came to Ithaca on Wednesday, March 22 to speak on behalf of Cornell Hillel.  At her talk, held in Statler Auditorium, Raisman spoke of her time at both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympic Games and her Jewish heritage, as well as her diet, favorite endorsments and what motivates her to keep going day in and day out. The talk, moderated by Cornell Gymnastics captain, Elana Molotsky, allowed Raisman to share her experiences with the students in attendance, while also leaving time for audience questions at the end.

Raisman is a three-time Olympic champion, two-time silver medalist, and one-time bronze medalist. She is one of only two American gymnasts to ever win back-to-back gold medals in the team final, captaining both the 2012 and 2016 teams to victory.

The Needham, Massachusetts native captivated the world in 2012 when she won her gold medal on floor exercise to the traditional Jewish song, “Hava Nagila” and dedicated her performance to the victims of the 1972 Munich Games. The routine, considered one of the toughest in the world, is one of the reasons she achieved the rare opportunity to compete in more than one Olympic Games. The five-member squad of the United States is considered by many to be the most elite team in the world.

Raisman left London as the most decorated US gymnast, winning two gold medals and a bronze. However despite her success, she had trouble forgetting one fourth place finish. “It was still lingering in the back of my mind that I had never gotten my all-around medal. I tied for third, and gymnastics is the only sport where they break the tie, so I got fourth,” she said, referring to her tie with Russian star Aliya Mustafina.

“It is one of the hardest places to be because you’re fourth in the world so obviously that’s great, but you also just missed the podium. It was really frustrating and really hard, and I just used it for motivation.”

Old for the sport of gymnastics, the 22 year-old revealed her age was another factor that motivated her return. She was famously nicknamed “Grandma Aly” by her 2016 team due to both her age and her affinity for sleep. She told the crowd, “When everyone says you’re too old to compete, you want to prove everyone wrong. It’s annoying when people tell you you can’t do something.”

By the Tokyo Games in 2020, Raisman will be 26, meaning she could be ten years older than her other teammates, but that isn’t stopping her. “You ask the hard questions,” Raisman responded to a young gymnast in the audience who asked about her return to the sport. “Yes that’s the goal,” she continued, “I am definitely taking these next few months just to rest and heal my body. I took a full year off after the 2012 Olympics and I am going to do the same because you need a little mental break too.” Important to note, the next US Gymnastics team will feature only four athletes, a huge change since 1996, when seven were permitted on each team.

When asked about her Jewish heritage, Raisman discussed her favorite holiday, Hanukkah, her favorite food, potato latkes, and described how cool it was to be able to travel to Israel and light the torch at the Maccabiah Games. Mostly, though, she highlighted how she mostly expresses her religion through time with her family. “I think that that’s really the most important thing. My parents have always instilled in me to be a good person and I think that it’s really valued in the Jewish community to be a kind person and to be loving and caring. I am grateful that my parents taught me that lesson.”

Many may remember Lynn and Rick Raisman for their hysterical anxiety caught on camera at the London Games during Aly’s routines. “They always taught me that it doesn’t matter if you’re first place or you’re last place, you always have to be respectful of your competitors. People will always remember you for your character.”

Aly has won many awards for both her leadership and sportsmanship, and inspired the audience to carry themselves in a similar manner. “People might forget years from know what place you got or how many medals someone has, but I think that people will always remember you for the kind of person that you are.”

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