When Aly Raisman fell off the uneven bars, she knew her chance to make it to the world championship all-around final had suddenly dimmed.
The oldest member of the U.S. women’s team is well aware of the rule limiting each country to two spots in the final. With two-time champion Simone Biles’ berth nearly a given, that left it to Raisman and reigning Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas to sort it out.
Halfway through four rotations Saturday, the good friends were practically tied.
“I cannot even explain it. It’s the worst feeling in the world,” Raisman said.
And for a brief moment, it didn’t get any better. Though Raisman recovered with a solid beam routine, it wasn’t enough to overtake Douglas, leaving Raisman fifth overall but ineligible for the final as the third American finisher.
“I wish they would change the rules because I think it should be that if you are in top eight or top 10, you should be able to advance to the final,” Raisman said after finishing behind Biles, Switzerland’s Giulia Steingruber, Douglas and Canada’s Elsabeth Black.
The seemingly cold-blooded rule left time standing still in the SSE Hydro when the gymnasts were waiting for Raisman’s score for balance beam.
“I was nervous a little bit waiting for Aly’s score,” said Douglas, who bent over her knees with her eyes fixed on the big screen. “I was like, `Just come on.“’
As a team, the American gymnasts are so strong they easily topped qualifications with an impressive 5.1-point lead over second-place Russia. As individuals, they compete against each for limited spots in the final, leading to two sometimes tense hours.
Douglas opened with a 14.4 on the floor exercise, but Raisman’s high jumps earned the defending Olympic champion on the event a 14.533, although she also was penalized for stepping outside the boundary.
Douglas played it safe on vault, choosing a slightly easier option in exchange for solid execution that gave her a 15.3. Raisman went with the more difficult Amanar – a back handspring onto the board and then 2 1/2 twisting somersaults before landing. A couple of big steps cost her, dropping her to 15.133 points.
Then came the fall for Raisman on the uneven bars, while Douglas cemented her lead with a solid performance only to fly off the balance beam, giving Raisman a chance to overtake her. Raisman’s steady but not spectacular execution was not good enough.
“I was a bit too hyper and nervous today,” Raisman said.
It’s a place Douglas has been before. It happened to Douglas four years ago, when she was a national team newcomer and came in fifth during qualifying at the 2011 world championships behind teammates Jordyn Wieber and Raisman.
“I wasn’t going to be like, `Fall, fall, fall,“’ Douglas said. “I was like, `come on, Aly, you’ve got this. We’re not like that. We don’t pull each other down. That’s just mean.”
Less than 10 months after that disappointment, Douglas dazzled in winning the all-around title in London while Wieber didn’t make it to the final and Raisman ended up fourth.
“I think we’re so tough and strong-minded that we prepare ourselves for anything, like if I make it or I don’t make it, we like shake it off, there’s always more competition,” Douglas said.
It’s a philosophy Raisman will have to rely on heading toward Rio.
“In the back of my mind, I’m trying to tell myself at least it’s not the Olympics,” Raisman said. “I still have next summer and that’s the one that is the biggest one.”
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