NEEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — The simple sign outside Taylor’s Accents Gifts says it all: “Congratulations Aly Raisman, Needham’s Golden Girl.”
It seems as if everyone in this Boston suburb is rooting for Raisman, the captain of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team that captured Olympic gold Tuesday in London.
As the 18-year-old Raisman prepares to compete Thursday in the individual all-around event, her friends, acquaintances and even those who don’t know her say they are riveted to their TVs.
“Everybody I see is talking about it. It’s the major source of conversation,” said Jerry Wasserman, chairman of Needham’s Board of Selectmen. “People are very proud. She grew up here, went to school here. It’s a boost to the community.”
Town Hall workers had a 32-foot congratulatory banner printed and hung on the building. They’re showing tomorrow’s competition live, opening their doors to those who want to watch the next step of the Games that have so captivated the town.
Raisman, voted in middle school as “most likely to be on ESPN,” is a typical teenager in some ways, but then can also “do all these crazy flips and have no fears at all,” said close friend Maddie McGill, 19.
“Someone asked me yesterday how it feels to know your friend is one of the most famous athletes, and it hadn’t even hit me how everyone knows her now,” McGill said. “I don’t think we realized how famous she was going to get.”
Said 16-year-old Diane Meason, who attended school with Raisman but wasn’t acquainted with her: “I see banners all over the place. Everybody is rooting for her even if they don’t know her.”
Raisman was a star here even before the Olympics, before she qualified for the individual all-around and before her parents’ now-famous reactions — shouting encouragement and squirming in their seats while their daughter competed on uneven bars — were broadcast across the globe, Wasserman said. At a July 3 fireworks show, he introduced Raisman, who, as soon as she left the stage, was swamped by fans asking for autographs and photos.
“We already know an awful lot of little girls are strongly, strongly rooting for Aly — as we all are — and not just in Needham,” Wasserman said.
Jack McQuillan, 59, the owner of Taylor’s, decided to put out two signs cheering Raisman on when she made the Olympic team.
“We would’ve been proud of her for just going. Over the Russians and the Chinese and the Romanians, who you expect to do those things, is a little girl from Needham Massachusetts that’s topped them all,” McQuillan said. “She certainly put Needham on the map.”
It’s not just Raisman and not just in Needham. Across the country, family, friends and fans are gathering to cheer on their hometown gymnastics heroes.
In Lansing, Mich., athletes, parents and coaches from a gymnastics club watched Jordyn Wieber via live stream at a movie theater. Kyla Ross’ supporters and fellow gymnasts in Alisa Viejo, Calif., gathered at a local Buffalo Wild Wings.
Even President Barack Obama has joined in the accolades, speaking on the phone individually with each of the five gymnasts who competed in the team all-around.