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NHL Winter Classic

Winter Classic provides fun trip for Olympic star

Champion gymnast Aly Raisman has strong connection to St. Louis through sport, family

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

Raisman takes in Winter Classic

CHI@STL: Gymnast Aly Raisman talks Winter Classic

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman talks about attending the Winter Classic and what her life has been like since the Olympics

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ST LOUIS -- United States Olympic women's gymnastics star Aly Raisman said she wasn't concerned about the rain Monday in the hours leading up to the 2017 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium.

She was happy to sit back and enjoy the League's signature outdoor game for the second straight year.

Raisman, who was part of the U.S. women's team gold medal, and won the silver in the individual all-around competition and the floor exercise at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, recently finished a three-month, 36-city victory tour with many of her Olympic teammates that began less than two weeks after her return from Brazil.

"I feel like I haven't even had time to recover from Rio yet," Raisman said.

But she was up early Monday, fulfilling commitments to Bridgestone, one of her sponsors and the presenting sponsor of the Winter Classic, before heading to Busch Stadium for the game.

Her trip, which followed a similar journey for her to the 2016 Winter Classic to see her hometown Boston Bruins play the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, is special because of the fond association Raisman has with St. Louis.

The 2016 USA Gymnastics national championship, the final qualifier for the Olympic team, was held here June 23-26, 2016.

Plus her brother, Brett, goes to college at Washington University in St. Louis.

"This doesn't feel like work to me; this is relaxing and fun," Raisman said at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark hours before the game. "I was saying to my brother that I have stayed at this hotel twice ... and the last few times I stayed here was for the national championship just before the Olympics. And I said it is so nice to be here and to not have to worry about gymnastics. It was very stressful and nerve-wracking when I was here last time. Sometimes when I am walking through these areas I get flashbacks of waiting for practice or the competition. Now I have finished that part and I can sit back and relax and have fun."

Graham Rahal, a driver in the IndyCar series, also was on hand Monday for the Winter Classic, the first for him in person. Rahal said he has watched previous Winter Classic games on television, but nothing that would compare to what he was about to witness.

"This is going to be a new experience for me and I'm really excited," he said.

Rahal said he's a die-hard fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets, his hometown team. He even found a way Monday to motivate the Blue Jackets, who will go for their 16th consecutive victory against the Edmonton Oilers at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; FS-O, SNW, NHL.TV).

"I just took a picture of Lord Stanley's Cup and just texted it to some of my Jackets buddies to give them some motivation to finish this thing off," Rahal said, laughing.

Rahal said he is friendly with many of the current Blue Jackets players after being introduced to them through a friendship with defenseman James Wisniewski, who played with the Blue Jackets from 2011-15.

"Hockey, other than racing, is probably what I enjoy the most," Rahal said.

While the athletes were excited about what awaits them at the Winter Classic, Bridgestone executives were excited about the latest iteration of the signature event of their partnership with the NHL, a relationship that has been in place for the past seven Winter Classic games.

"It is absolutely incredible to come and see it, the ice and the decorations, as they all come together each year," said Phil Pacsi, vice president of sports marketing for Bridgestone. "Here in St. Louis the day before we were on the rooftop of the hotel looking right down into Busch Stadium and it was simply fantastic."

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