With Simone Biles all but set to walk away with the Olympic all-around gold medal on Thursday night, some sports fans may feel there's not much excitement to be found on the competition floor (you know, if watching the greatest female gymnast alive isn't enough excitement for one evening). But one of the most compelling, high-pressure storylines of the games will take place during Thursday's all-around competition and it centers on team USA captain Aly Raisman — whom, with a stellar qualification performance this past Sunday, earned herself a second chance at an all-around medal she lost in 2012.
At the London Olympics, Raisman came in relatively unknown. Without the fanfare of 2011 world champion Jordyn Wieber and eventual 2012 all-around champion Gabby Douglas, she left the games the most decorated of them all. The Massachusetts native won a gold medal with the team, a gold medal on the floor exercise, and a bronze on the balance beam. For a brief moment, Raisman had another bronze medal, in the all around, before a tie-break bumped her down to the dreaded fourth place and gave sole possession of the bronze medal to Russia's Aliya Mustafina.
The women's all-around competition is still considered by many to be the premier event for gymnastics at the Olympic Games. The competition will name the single best gymnast on earth across the four apparatus, vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise.
Aly Raisman didn't fail in London — far from it — but the disappointment of a bronze medal slipping through her hands has served as motivation for the 22-year-old to recommit to years of grueling workouts and and challenging team selection camps to return to the Olympics for another shot at the one major medal that still alludes the two-time Olympic team captain.
"The thing that still lingers in my head is that I almost got that all-around medal," Raisman recounted during an interview with USA Gymnastics at the start of her comeback in 2014. "I tied for it and they didn't give it to me – so I think that's something that I still think about all the time and I still use that for motivation when I'm really tired and I'm having a rough day."
Raisman brushed off pressure about the all-around early in the Olympic process, telling USA Today, "Whatever happens, happens ... I'm trying not to think about it. I'm just thinking about being the best I can be for the team first because that's what comes first."
As team USA stormed to the top of the medal podium Tuesday night, Raisman and Douglas became the first American gymnasts to earn three Olympic gold medals. Two nights before, it was Raisman battling Douglas for the final spot in the all-around behind perennial favorite Simone Biles.
Coming into Rio, the all-around competition was far from a given for Raisman. Her struggles on the uneven bars throughout her career made National Team Coordinator, Martha Karolyi's decision to put her in the bar lineup over Laurie Hernandez during the qualification competition somewhat controversial. Major errors on the uneven bars at the 2010 World Championships dashed Raisman's hopes for all around medal leaving her in fourth place. It was the stressed reactions of watching their daughter perform on uneven bars at the 2012 Olympics that turned Raisman's parents into an instant Olympic meme. A fall from the bars during the qualifying round at the 2015 world championships kept her out of the all-around competition altogether.
The pressure of a second chance at an Olympic all-around medal made Raisman's uneven bar routine in Sunday's qualification perhaps the highest-stake routine of her entire career. She nailed it. And with that, punched a ticket to re-write her personal Olympic history on Thursday night.
For the gymnast often described as "sturdy" and "reliable," who has long put the team's needs before her own, Tuesday night's team final was a historic golden moment — but a medal of any color in the all-around for Aly Raisman might just be the most precious medal of all.