LONDON -- Aly Raisman grabbed the sides of her warmup jacket – at just about the place where a medal would have hung – and did what she's always done.
She held it together.
There's a stoicism to the captain of the U.S. women's gymnastics team that endears her to coaches and teammates alike. She never gets nervous, so unfazed by the bright arena lights it's as if she's just getting in a workout, not competing on her sport's biggest stage.
After the most gut-wrenching moment of her career, Raisman relied on that toughness more than ever, saying all the right things – as usual – when a tiebreaker let a bronze medal slip through her grasp in the women's all-around finals.
The 18-year-old, the oldest of the team's five teenagers, praised gold medal-winning and fame-bound teammate Gabby Douglas after she became the first African-American – well, the first person of any color actually – to win the Olympic title.
Raisman didn't criticize the International Gymnastics Federation for its straightforward ruling that gave the bronze to Russian Aliya Mustafina. The two finished with the same score of 59.566, but it was Mustafina who stood on the podium next to Douglas and silver medalist Viktoria Komova because the total of Mustafina's three best events was higher than Raisman's by more than half a point.
The ever-polite kid from Needham, Mass., didn't even get mad at the tactless way she learned she was leaving O2 Arena empty-handed.
Rather than be told by a FIG official or even someone from the U.S. coaching staff, Raisman didn't know the outcome until a media member explained it to her.
"I'm more sad than angry," Raisman said.
She was mad at herself more than anybody else, pointing the finger in the mirror rather than place blame elsewhere. It's not Mustafina's fault that Raisman struggled on balance beam, her best event.
"She didn't do anything wrong," Raisman said. "She had a good competition too."
Even if the 2010 world champion thought she was out of the running after her own struggles on the beam. Mustafina, whose icy glare runs as deep as a Russian winter, hopped off during her routine. She then stormed away following the dismount, brushing off a coach as she tried to compose herself.
"I was almost 100 percent sure that I wouldn't get to medal," Mustafina said.
All Raisman needed was a typical set on beam to put herself in position to give the U.S. two all-around medalists for the second straight games.
Yet in a packed arena awash in American flags and on an event where she's among the best in the world, Raisman flinched. Normally so serene it appears she's working out on top of your kitchen table, not a four-inch wide piece of wood, Raisman bent over following a front somersault and put both hands down to regain her balance.
"I don't know what happened," said Mihai Brestyan, Raisman's coach.
Even U.S. women's team coordinator Martha Karolyi, sitting in the stands with the rest of Team USA, was stunned.
"Beam is her strongest event," Karolyi said. "She's very solid like a rock. I don't know what happened to her mind today."
Brestyan has an idea.
Raisman had what U.S. coach John Geddert called "the meet of her life" during qualifying, posting the top score by an American and knocking best friend and reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber out of the all-around finals.
It was a stunning result. Raisman has spent years on the fringe of the spotlight. When it was finally thrust upon her, she couldn't enjoy it.
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The story from qualifying wasn't Raisman's sublime performance, but the rules that allow only two competitors per country to compete in the finals, squeezing out Wieber, who finished fourth but was the third-best American.
"Everybody makes you feel bad because you take the world champion's place," Brestyan said. "They're not happy for you. They are mad for Jordyn and you feel really bad and you carry this with you."
There appeared to be no carryover in team finals, as Raisman's typical consistency helped power the U.S. to its first team gold since 1996.
Yet with Wieber watching about 20 rows up instead of right by her side, Raisman cracked. Not a lot. Just enough.
"I know I can definitely do a better beam routine than I did today," she said. "I tried to come out and do the best I can."
Raisman, who finished her floor exercise with tears in her eyes on Tuesday because she knew it had clinched the long-sought prize for the "Fierce Five," recovered from her beam flub to post a 15.133 in her last event.
When the score flashed, it left Raisman and Mustafina with matching totals. Yet there was a "3" next to Mustafina's name and a "4" next to Raisman's.
Even Mustafina didn't know what was going on, shaking her head when asked if she had figured out why she wasn't joined by Raisman on the medal stand. Still, she happily accepted the bronze after blowing out her knee at the 2011 European Championships.
In a way, Raisman was punished for being, well, Raisman. Though her high-scoring Amanar vault is solid, it's not the spectacle that is Mustafina on uneven bars. It was Mustafina's score of 16.1 there that provided the difference. When the judges threw out her backfire on beam, it really wasn't close.
As "The Star Spangled Banner" played for Douglas, Raisman slowly worked her way through a long line of reporters.
No tears. No whining. She's knows she'll get a chance at redemption next week in the event finals, where she will compete on floor and beam.
Besides, she already got the medal she really wanted on that glorious Tuesday night when the U.S. returned to the top.
"Being fourth in the world is definitely something to be proud," she said. "I'm trying to be positive about it."