By Leland Stein III
LONDON – USA gymnast Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas, 16, now has her picture on a Corn Flakes box, there’s a painted 9-by-30 foot giant mural in her honor in Virginia Beach with her holding a gold medal with an American flag backdrop, and, she is being recruited by one of the most prestigious black universities in the country – Spelman. In fact, the President of Spelman, Beverly Daniel Tatum came out to London and made sure Gabby got a Spelman gift bag containing a congratulatory note, school t-shirt and a CD containing a song produced by the college. Exclaimed Tatum: “A young woman who has demonstrated the drive and discipline needed to achieve world-class excellence is likely to have what it takes to be successful at Spelman, and we would welcome her interest in the college.” This is the type of accolades that come one’s way when an individual like Douglas puts in the work, the sweat and tears to achieve at the Olympic level in one of the most competitive sports contested at the Games.
Douglas’ flew, flashed, pranced and powered her greyhound-like frame into history. She came into the 2012 London Games like a flame in the night. Bubbly, effervescent, but she has the steel resolve of a heavyweight boxer. Douglas joined Dominique Dawes -- who was part of the Magnificent Seven team in 1996 -- as the only African-American woman to earn a gold medal in gymastics in the Olympics. However, Douglas became the first person of color to win gold in gymnastics’ premier event, the artistic individual all-around. Along with her team victory she earned two golds.
She also had a shot at two other medals as she earned the right to perform on the individual beam and uneven bars. She finished eighth on uneven bars and found herself hanging on to the beam from below in undignified fashion before dropping to the mat in her last competition. She finished seventh out of eight competitors. It was clear to me watching her in those two events that the euphoria of the USA team and all-around victories has drained her, and, after all the interviews and four-day she had kind of lost her mojo.
“I really could have done better in those two events, but I think I was mentally drained,” Douglas told me. “I was fatigued and a little tired, and, in gymnastics if you lose just a little concentration you will make mistakes.”
I was worry about Douglas before I talked to her. I was mistakenly concerned about her spirit after the tremendous highs of making history and then failing . . . all in the same Olympics. Much to my surprise she was upbeat and strong about her mistakes. “We’re not losers,” Douglas said. “We’re superheroes. We do tricks no one else can do. We’re all humans. We all make mistakes. We’re 16-year-olds and have a lot of pressure on our shoulders. That’s kind of a lot for a teenager. But I’m not complaining. I like what I do and I do it to the best of my ability.”
I asked Douglas if she had been to any other Olympic events and she said no. I was naïve about the pressure placed on those acrobatic ladies.
“No, I have not been to any other events,” she said. “We have been practicing and training and trying to keep our bodies in peak condition.” Douglas told me that when her competition was over she hoped to be able to go to some other Olympic events. I do not know if that happened or not. What I do know is that Douglas said she really wanted to go back home to Virginia Beach to visit the city for the first time in two years. She left home to live and train with another family for two years in Iowa.
“I look forward to going home,” she said. “I have been told there will be parades It’s gonna be insane, but I’m ready for it. I made the history books.” Indeed she did!
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII
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