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Raisman keeps eye on Tokyo during 'crazy' downtime

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - American gymnast Aly Raisman has been caught up in a whirlwind since helping the United States to its golden haul in Rio and the triple Olympic champion is waiting for her world to stop spinning before setting her sights on the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Raisman, who captained the 'Final Five' U.S. women to the most dominant Olympic victory in the team event six months ago, will be 26 when she bids for her third Olympics, hoping to defy gymnastics' stereotype as a sport built for petite teenagers.

The Boston-born Raisman is in no great hurry to plunge back into competition, however, knowing a year off to freshen up could be her best chance of building motivation for another tilt at surviving the cut-throat competition to make the U.S. team.

To that end, she will appear at her first gymnastics event since Rio as an ambassador rather than a competitor this week at the Melbourne stop of the individual apparatus World Cup series.

"It would be ridiculous if I were to try to compete now," Raisman told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday after a bit of sightseeing in the sports-mad city.

"I’ve been working out, staying healthy but I’m not even close to being in the shape of competing.

"It wouldn’t feel weird because there’s muscle memory but my body would hurt because I haven’t been doing any pounding since Rio, basically.”

THE GOOD LIFE

Life has never been better for a U.S. Olympic gymnast.

The Final Five's successful defense of the Olympic team title and Simone Biles's four gold medals at Rio opened the insular world of international gymnastics to mainstream America.

Raisman, Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian have all enjoyed a prolonged victory lap, touring dozens of cities and making red carpet appearances at Hollywood awards nights.

Raisman, second to Biles in the all-around and floor exercise at Rio, has kept in regular touch with her team mates.

She joined Biles recently for a photo shoot for Sports Illustrated magazine's swimwear edition and also competed in the popular 'Dancing with the Stars' television show.

"It’s actually been pretty crazy, I’ve only been home maybe one month in the past eight or nine," said Raisman, who won her first Olympic team gold as a member of the United States' 'Fierce Five' at London where she also took the floor exercise title.

"But it’s been incredible. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities. In 2012 I got to do a lot of fun stuff but it’s really surpassed my expectations this time."

Although the 'Final Five' have bathed in acclaim, USA Gymnastics has been rocked by allegations from former athletes of sexual abuse by coaches and a long-serving team doctor in media reports last year, prompting the governing body to review its sexual misconduct policy.

"It’s obviously terrible and it should never have happened, but there is an investigation," said Raisman.

"So I can’t comment because we have to respect their investigation."

At the age of 22, Raisman had to defy doubters who said she was too old to compete at Rio and she wept freely with the emotional release of qualifying at national trials in San Jose last year.

She is likely to be put through the emotional wringer again when she launches her bid for Tokyo but the American draws inspiration from the likes of Romanian Catalina Ponor, who won three golds at the 2004 Athens Games and competed as a 28-year-old at Rio.

Oksana Chusovitina, who won a team gold with the former Soviet Union's 'Unified Team' at the 1992 Barcelona Games, represented Uzbekistan at Rio at the age of 41 and has competed in seven Olympics with three different national delegations.

"It’s just amazing how incredible (Chusovitina) is," said Raisman. "I think everyone is still in awe of her, of what she is still doing in gymnastics."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)