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Needham rallies behind gold medalist Aly Raisman

Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman waved to her hometown fans Sunday.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman waved to her hometown fans Sunday.

NEEDHAM — Along with several thousand fans on a Needham baseball field on Sunday, John Madsen peered toward a gazebo at the front of the crowd, hoping for a glimpse of Aly Raisman.

When Raisman saw him and waved, it hardly came as a surprise. The captain of the US women’s gymnastics team is the sister of one of Madsen’s close friends.

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It’s just that after two gold medals and a bronze in the London Olympics, Raisman has “put our town on the map,” the lanky Needham High School junior said proudly.

“Needham is a quiet, small town,” Madsen said, looking over a crowd of cheering fans. “We’ve never had anything like this.”

Indeed, Sunday’s parade and rally reflected a town, and a region, that adores its star.

Seated atop a yellow Lamborghini convertible that rolled from Needham Town Hall to Needham High School, Raisman smiled and waved, prompting squeals of delight from children seated on the shoulders of cheering parents.

The parade ended in a rally on the high school baseball field, where Raisman thanked the crowd. “It’s been the best summer of my life,” she said, standing in front of a massive flag held aloft by a crane. “I hope I made you all proud.”

It appeared that she had.

Cousins Isabella Sylvester, 10, and Ariana Clark, 9, drove from Stoneham with their mothers to see the star.

Sylvester, a gymnast who hopes to compete in the Olympics someday, called Raisman a “big role model.”

“She’s a very outgoing person,” said Sylvester, who held a photo of Raisman and an American flag. “And she follows her dreams.”

Raisman transfixed viewers worldwide during the Olympics, in the process transforming herself into a national celebrity. Since returning from London, the 18-year-old has kept a trying appearance schedule, speaking on talk shows and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park.

The success seems unlikely to go to Raisman’s head, said Phyllis Noller, a 69-year-old family friend at Sunday’s rally.

“She’s a very sweet, level-headed girl,” Noller said. “She’s very unassuming, very down-to-earth. She’s an amazing kid.”

As a lengthy lineup of local officials offered their congratulations, local businesses offered free cake and cold drinks. Raisman smiled and clapped during a performance by young gymnasts from the Newton gym where she trained as a girl.

Among those who showed up was Grace Li, a sophomore at Needham High School, who marveled at the way Raisman’s performance had raised Needham’s profile. “To be able to say, ‘We’re from Aly Raisman’s town,’ it’s great,” she said.

The boisterous crowd was in itself an attraction for David Hill, who held his 5-year-old daughter, Maya.

“It’s great to see the town turn out like this,” he said.

Nearby, his older daughter, Zoe, 10, seemed impressed by the gymnast’s success.

“It’s cool how she started so small,” Zoe said, “and then she got all the way to the Olympics.”

Adam Sege can be reached at adam.sege@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamSege.
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