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London Olympics: Alexandra Raisman leads with competence, poise

The captain of the U.S. women's gymnastics team is often overshadowed by Jordyn Wieber and Gabrielle Douglas, but Raisman remains steady and encouraging for her teammates. The U.S. will be in the team final Tuesday.

July 30, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Alexandra Raisman on the balance beam during the women's team gymnastics preliminary competition at the London Olympics.
Alexandra Raisman on the balance beam during the women's team gymnastics… (David Eulitt / MCT )

LONDON — Alexandra Raisman is a good teammate. And in her heart she knows she's a great gymnast.

As this Olympic quadrennial has progressed, as 17-year-old Jordyn Wieber and 16-year-old Gabrielle Douglas won all of the competitions and grew to be the face of the gold-medal-favorite U.S. Olympic team, Raisman did what she always does:

Perform competent and mostly mistake-free routines, followed up by a few words of encouragement for herself and her teammates.

Team captain Raisman, 18, says she lets her personality through in one place in particular — the floor exercise.

When she shakes her hips and taps her toes to the Hebrew folk song "Hava Nagila," suddenly Raisman glows. In the last couple of years, it is the floor exercise where she has laid claim to being the best. At last year's world championships, when Wieber won the all-around gold, Raisman took bronze on the floor exercise.

"That medal meant so much to me," Raisman said. "It helped prove to myself that I kind of belong."

As much as Raisman's steady brand of gymnastics will be needed in Tuesday's team finals if the U.S. is to win its first team gold medal since 1996, so will her way of being team captain.

Raisman is best friends with Wieber, who left the floor Sunday crying and in need of hugs and maybe more from her teammates.

"This is the beauty of our program," USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny said. "On any given day any one of the girls on our team can do it."

After the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the rule was changed from allowing up to three athletes per country in the 24-woman all-around finals to two. So even though Raisman, Douglas and Wieber went 2-3-4 behind Russian Victoria Komova, Wieber will be on the sidelines Thursday during the all-around.

Wieber has until Tuesday to recover her focus and her enthusiasm, because the U.S. will need her to be steady if it is to beat the Russians, Chinese, Romanians and British, who all finished in the top five in the team competition, for the gold.

McKayla Maroney, the 16-year-old from Long Beach who is expected to win a vault gold medal later in the week, said she expects Wieber to put away any doubts before the team finals begin.

"She's a strong gymnast," Maroney said. "She can turn it around in two seconds. Two days is plenty of time. We're all here for her."

Bela Karolyi, who coached the team that won gold in 1996, said he is "scared" about what Wieber's loss Sunday will mean for the U.S. on Tuesday.

"A stronghold that was the anchor of the team is now out; I'm not sure how she's going to respond," Karolyi said. "I hope she is going to get the composure, just like she always does. But you know, you are human beings. You never know how they're going to be."

diane,pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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