Not My Job: Gymnast Aly Raisman Plays A Game Called 'Oy! A Vault!'

Sep 22, 2018
Originally published on September 22, 2018 9:06 am

When Aly Raisman was a little girl, she used to watch and rewatch the 1996 U.S. women's gymnastics team win the Olympic gold and say to herself: Someday, that will be me. She was right, not once — but twice. Raisman won two team gold medals as captain of the U.S. Olympic teams in 2012 and 2016. And she also won gold for her floor exercise in 2012. Raisman chronicles her career the memoir Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything.

We've invited Raisman to play a game called "Oy! A Vault!" Gymnasts know a thing or two about vaults ... but what about the kind you store your stuff in?

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And now the game where true competitors learn what it's like simply not to care about winning because, in this case, it just doesn't matter. When Aly Raisman was a young girl, she used to watch and re-watch the 1996 women's American Olympic gymnastic team win the gold, and she said to herself, that's going to be me one day. Well, she was wrong. That was her two days because she won team gold at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. We assume she's been dreaming of this day for just as long.

Aly Raisman, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


ALY RAISMAN: Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me on.

SAGAL: So, I mean, you begin your new book with that story - that you came across a VHS - like, an old VHS tape of the 1996 competition, and you used to watch that constantly.

RAISMAN: Yes. I was absolutely obsessed with it. My grandfather had taped it for my mom, and then my mom had just forgot about it. And one day she was just - I think she was just going through boxes, and she found it, and she put it in on the TV. And little did she know that tape would completely change my life. I would watch it every single day, had every single score memorized. I wanted to be just like those girls.

SAGAL: And, if people don't remember, this is one of the most famous moments in Olympic history where Kerri Strug of the U.S. team had to make a vault in order to win team gold. She hurt herself on the first one, and she had to make a vault with, like, on a sprained ankle, and she landed in pain and was hopping. And you were, like, I want to be that woman in agony.


RAISMAN: Yeah. I mean, when I was 8 years old watching it, it doesn't occur to you how hard it is actually going to be to get to the Olympic Games. But I don't know. It was something in me. I just wanted to be there so bad.

SAGAL: Now, what is amazing to me, looking - reading your book is by the time you watch that at age 8, you were already a competitive gymnast, right? One of the most amazing things to me is the first time you tried out for a gym team was you were 5, right?

RAISMAN: Yes, I was. And I actually didn't make it to the next level. I was the only one in my pre-teen group that got held back. And I had no idea. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive, and they just told me I was lucky that I got to repeat the level again. I had no idea it was...


RAISMAN: ...Because I was the worst in the class.

SAGAL: Sure. And so you worked extraordinarily hard. You had to miss a couple things that are sort of more normal for, I guess, non-gymnasts like yourself. Like, were you able to attend your high school graduation?

RAISMAN: I was not able to. I actually - we had, like, a day before the graduation where they gave out awards to the students, and they let me graduate a day early. But it was a few months before the Olympics, and so it was either nationals or Olympic trials - I forgot which one it was - so it was a very important competition. So it was almost like, at that point, it didn't really hit me that I was missing graduation. I was just so focused on the Olympics that it - you know, and I went to my prom, so I'm very grateful I was able to do that. And I left at, like, 10 o'clock and - to make sure that I was ready for the next day's practice.

FAITH SALIE: Hey, Aly? When you went to prom, were you just, like, y'all, just clear the floor?


SALIE: And you just, like...

RAISMAN: You know what? Actually, no because I was a little bit more - I was so focused. I think I was a little bit more shy in high school, too. I wasn't that comfortable. I was so serious at that time. But if I went - I went to a wedding a few weeks ago, and I was definitely, like, everyone clear the floor. And I had a really good time.


SAGAL: We're not thinking of you dancing at these events.

SALIE: No, no - you're flipping.

SAGAL: We're thinking of you doing, like...

RAISMAN: Oh, oh...

SAGAL: ...Floor routines.


RAISMAN: People ask me to do stuff in heels, and I'm, like, are you crazy?


SAGAL: You're the second-most-decorated gymnast in American history. You've won two team gold medals and individual medals at two Olympics, which is amazing. Have you considered - I mean, you have such extraordinary skills and training. Have you considered using them to, for example, fight crime?


RAISMAN: No, I have not (laughter).

SALIE: Hey, Aly, you are so focused and driven and are such, like, a self-aware and responsible person, so I really want to know, what's the most rebellious thing you've ever done?

RAISMAN: That's a good question. I mean, something - I mean, I feel like people might know this about me, but I'm incredibly messy. I know that's not really rebellious, but, like...


RAISMAN: I'm very, very messy.

SAGAL: Like, all right, wait a minute.

RAISMAN: I'm a very, very messy person.

SAGAL: So you're calling us from your home. Describe the room you're in.

SALIE: Are there legwarmers all over the place?

RAISMAN: No, no, no. The room that I'm in...

ADAM BURKE: There's just medals everywhere (laughter).

RAISMAN: ...Very clean, actually. I've been traveling a lot, so I've been keeping it pretty clean. I'm really...

SALIE: Ah, come on.

RAISMAN: ...Trying hard to be neat, but it's very hard for me. I'm, like, trying to trick myself into thinking that cleaning is therapeutic so that I can be cleaner.


BURKE: Are there - I was just picturing, like - I was picturing her having, like, a pommel horse in her apartment just with jackets all over it.


RAISMAN: Well, OK, I - if you came into my house, it is very clean. But, I mean, there are times where sometimes my room does get messy. But I'm working on it.


RAISMAN: I'm working on it.

SAGAL: So it's not messy now, but it's potentially, possibly messy...


SAGAL: ...If you...


SAGAL: ...Let your guard down for an instant.



BURKE: The Russian judge has just deducted points for it.

SAGAL: I know.


SAGAL: One last question - I've always wondered about this. Do you, the gymnasts, ever get jealous of the figure skaters because the figure skaters get all those free stuffed animals?


RAISMAN: Oh, I think that's really cool that they get all the stuffed animals. I've never thought about that before, but...

SAGAL: Welcome to NPR.

RAISMAN: No, but...


SAGAL: Well, Aly Raisman, it is a pleasure to talk to you after watching you for so long. But we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...



SAGAL: So you are an expert, of course, at the vault, among other skills. But what do you know about the other kind of vaults - the kind you store stuff in?

RAISMAN: Oh, gosh. OK.

SAGAL: That is the right attitude. Answer 2 out of 3 questions about vaults of various kinds correctly. If you do that, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they may choose on their voicemail. Bill, who is champion gymnast Aly Raisman playing for?

KURTIS: Sandy Kreger of Dexter, Mich.

SAGAL: All right. Are you ready to do this?

RAISMAN: All right. Pressure's on.

SAGAL: OK. Here is your first question. Not all vaults hold money or jewels. There is a vault below the Earth in the Danish town of Billund where, if you were to break in, you would find what - A, 4,000 kilograms of dryer lint...


SAGAL: ...B, One copy of every LEGO set ever made; or C, a single copy of a particular Wu-Tang Clan record?


RAISMAN: I have no idea. I'm going to go with some help from the audience.

SAGAL: Well...

RAISMAN: I have no idea.


SAGAL: Well, I will tell you and I'll tell the audience as well that there's a hint in that it's a town in Denmark.



SAGAL: B, yes. The audience is right, and you are, too.


SAGAL: It's one copy of every LEGO set because that, of course, is where LEGO is made, and that is the company's sort of vault of every set they've ever made.


BURKE: The only problem is the vault...

RAISMAN: Very interesting.

BURKE: ...Is also made out of LEGOs...


BURKE: ...So it's very easy to get into.


SAGAL: Most vaults are found in banks, of course, including the Credem Bank of Italy. But that bank's vault is unusual because, in addition to money, it contains what - A, 430,000 wheels of Parmesan cheese...


SAGAL: ...B, the bank owner's favorite teddy bear; or C, a man named Giuseppe, who pays the bank a thousand euros a month to live there?


RAISMAN: OK. I'm going to go with A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A, the Parmesan cheese. You're right.


SALIE: I like that idea.


SAGAL: This particular bank is in the center of the cheesemaking district, and they accept wheels of Parmesan cheese as collateral for loans.


SAGAL: So there you go. All right. This is very good. You're - it looks like you're about to medal.


SAGAL: Last question. Many people use vaults to store memories. There is one vault inside a mountain north of New York in particular that contains what - A, a small sample of everything billionaire Peter Thiel has ever eaten; B, video of every professional wrestling match ever staged; or C, every ounce of sweat toweled off Michael Jackson after the year 1977?


RAISMAN: I'm going to go with B.

SAGAL: You're going to go with B, video of every professional wrestling match. You're right again.


SALIE: You stuck the landing, Aly.

SAGAL: She did. The vault, of course, belongs to World Wrestling Entertainment, and they've got it all there in case they can do something with it. Bill, how did...


SAGAL: ...Aly Raisman do?

KURTIS: She is stuck on gold.

SAGAL: It's amazing.

KURTIS: Wow - all three.


SAGAL: Compared to, like, the Olympic gold medals, how does this feel?


RAISMAN: Better.

SAGAL: There you go. You are a nice person. Aly Raisman is an Olympic gold medalist and was captain of the U.S. gymnastics team. Her memoir, "Fierce," is available now. Aly Raisman, thank you so much for joining us...

RAISMAN: Thank you.



SAGAL: Thank you. now. bye-Bye

RAISMAN: Thanks. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "BUGLER'S DREAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.