Even casual fans of U.S. women’s gymnastics are miffed that reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber failed to advance to the all-around individual final. But we have been given a delicious consolation in the form of Ricky and Lynn Raisman, parents of Wieber’s victorious teammate Aly Raisman.
During NBC’s broadcast last night, the peacock zoomed in on the Rasimans as they watched their daughter compete in the uneven bars. In a video that quickly went viral, the Raismans engage in some elite-level contortions: They cringe, they implore her to “stick it!”, and they even twist around with her a little bit, willing her to nail the routine.
This scene was remarkably entertaining, but for those of us who caught a recent documentary about Raisman, it wasn’t surprising. The three-part special Aly Raisman: Quest for Gold, which was produced by Comcast SportsNet, showed the 18-year-old Aly training, competing, signing with an agent, posing for Vogue, getting her hair done for prom while chalk clings to her knees, and finally qualifying for the Olympic team. Along the way, viewers get to know the Raismans as fiercely competitive gym parents who have invested nearly as much sweat in Aly’s career as she has.
At one point in Quest for Gold, we see Aly’s father and brother watch her compete on TV. Ricky Raisman can’t sit. He’s jumping and screaming at the TV. “Stick it! Stick it!” he shouts, as though she better not come home if she stumbles. And just as in the Olympics on Sunday, Aly did as he instructed. She also listened to her parents and coach when they decided that it was best for her not to attend her official high school graduation, which fell on a date very close to the Visa Championships, lest the weather get too hot.
It isn’t necessarily that Raisman’s parents are living through her, as the popular narrative of gymnastics parents goes. What Quest for Gold shows is that they are determined that she do everything right and cautiously. That includes the commercial side of things. In interviews, Aly is as controlled as she is on the balance beam. Everything, it seems—from posing for a “Got Milk?” ad to making the Olympic team—is “so exciting,” an “honor,” a “dream come true.” It was no surprise to see these go-to Raisman phrases appear in her celebratory NBC interview on Sunday night, as Wieber cried behind her.
Raisman has a reputation for this sort of bland but unarguable consistency on the mat, too. In Quest for Gold, former gymnast Shannon Miller pays her a faint compliment, saying that Aly is maybe not the most exciting gymnast, but she’s dependable.
There are a few moments in the documentary in which Aly’s polished façade falls. When she’s being interviewed by Vogue, someone asks whether her mother was a gymnast, too. “Just high school,” Aly says. When people say her mother also did gymnastics, Raisman explains, they tend to think it was at a high level, but it was nothing of the sort. “I’m getting dissed,” her mother says wryly.
Hopefully, Raisman is able to be a normal teenager today, on the night before she tries to help the United States to gold in the women’s team competition. As the pressure mounts, perhaps she’ll take a moment to do what every other 18-year-old would: Yell at her parents for embarrassing her on national TV.