STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Alexandra Raisman of Needham Massachusetts started gymnastics like a lot of other kids, in a toddler class, tumbling, making moves on a long spring track a little like a trampoline. Today at 17 years old, she is considered one of the best tumblers in the world and well on track to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team.
From WBUR in Boston, Monica Brady-Myerov reports.
MONICA BRADY-MYEROV, BYLINE: As a gymnast Aly Raisman sets herself apart with her power moves. Here she is at the 2012 American Cup, which was broadcast on NBC.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Unreal.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And she's capable of some unbelievable tumbling passes that I'm sure, before she's preformed this one, most people in the world would have said that this pass is not possible.
BRADY-MYEROV: Raisman runs into a series of aerial somersaults that ends with a punch lay out, which means she flips over fully extended like she's a pancake being flipped. It's almost like she's floating. If she nails it at the Olympic trials at the end of June, she'll have a very good chance of taking one of the five spots on the women's U.S. Gymnastics team.
ALY RAISMAN: I'm excited and I'm anxious, and I'm just kind of ready for it to happen. I feel like I've been waiting my whole life for it, so I just kind of want it to come now.
BRADY-MYEROV: Her mother, Lynn Raisman, says as the oldest of four children, Aly has drive and determination in everything she does.
LYNN RAISMAN: Gymnastics has really taken a priority in her life for a really long time, and that comes from her. Because if it didn't, I think she would have quit a long time ago.
BRADY-MYEROV: Raisman was only two in 1996 when the U.S. Women's Gymnastics team last took the gold. When Raisman set her sights on the Olympics, her mother found an old VCR tape of that golden team and gave it to her.
RAISMAN: I would replay it, like day after day after day. And I was literally obsessed with it. I could memorize all the scores and I tell you like who was going next and all that stuff. And I was so inspired by it.
BRADY-MYEROV: Until last year, Raisman went to Needham High School and maintained a rigorous training schedule. Now she's completing her senior year on-line. Most days she spends seven hours at the gym. She says the key to tumbling is conditioning and not just lifting weights.
RAISMAN: Actually I have to climb the rope without legs with 10 pound weights on. It's very, very hard.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BRADY-MYEROV: That's why you're upper body looks strong.
RAISMAN: Yeah, I'm really strong. I mean I look really strong, definitely, compared to normal girls. But I'm proud of it I guess, because it's a lot of hard work to get that and it doesn't just come overnight.
BRADY-MYEROV: Raisman is an all-round gymnast, which means she competes on the floor, bars, vault and balance beam.
MIHAI BRESTYAN: OK, about the take off? Where does is the take off
BRADY-MYEROV: At a gym in a suburb of Boston, Raisman practices her dismount from the balance beam. Coach Mihai Brestyan stands a good distance away quietly giving pointers.
BRESTYAN: OK. OK, this was a good one. OK, stay with this one. That's it.
BRADY-MYEROV: Brestyan, who's Romanian, says Raisman is Olympic caliber because she is self-critical.
BRESTYAN: You know, to be successful, you cannot be all the time pleased with yourself. You need to be as critical. Because if from the day you think, Oh, I am good enough, tomorrow it's somebody else better than you.
BRADY-MYEROV: Raisman doesn't want anyone to be better than her. She wants a gold medal. But like any teenager, she's not entirely focused on the gold. She's also thinking about prom.
RAISMAN: My prom dress is brown and its' really different, because most people don't wear brown to prom. But I'm excited and...
BRADY-MYEROV: Aly Raisman says she wants to eventually go to college and study fashion. But right, now she's focused on sticking a spot on the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team.
RAISMAN: So I'm really excited to wear it. And a lot of people are going with the simple looks this year...
BRADY-MYEROV: For NPR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov in Boston.