Sixteen-year-old Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas is doing more than just proudly representing her country at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
She’s making history.
On Tuesday, Douglas won the team gold medal with her teammates. This was the first time the USA women’s gymnastic team won gold since 1996. Douglas won her second gold medal in the gymnastics individual all-around final on Thursday. Douglas is the first American woman to win the gold medals in both team gymnastics and the all-around. She is also the first Black woman to win gold in the gymnastics individual all-around final.
“I told her before she left for London, that we are going to celebrate like you won a gold medal,” said Natalie Hawkins, Douglas’ mother. “If you win a silver medal, we are going to celebrate like you won a gold. If you get a bronze, we will celebrate like you took home the gold. If you don’t get a medal at all, we will still celebrate like there’s no tomorrow. No matter what you do, you’re an Olympian and that says it all.”
Known as the “Flying Squirrel” for her electrifying aerial performances, Douglas honed her gymnastics skills in Virginia Beach. Born to Timothy Douglas and Hawkins, Douglas began training in gymnastics at age six when her older sister, Arielle, convinced their mother to enroll her in gymnastics classes.
When she was eight, Douglas won an all-around gymnastics award for her level at the 2004 Virginia State Championships. At age 14, Douglas moved from her home in Virginia to live with a host family in Iowa, so she could train with Liang Chow, who was the coach of former world and Olympic champion Shawn Johnson.
“Letting her go to Iowa was one of the hardest decisions I made in my life,” Hawkins said. “I knew I would miss her, but I knew this was her dream. But to know she’s joined with a coach who believes in her 100 percent and she believes in them 100 percent meant the world to me, because she’s happy and going after her dream.”
Douglas made her national debut at the 2010 Nastia Liukin SuperGirl Cup, a televised Level 10 meet held in Worcester, Mass., where Douglas placed fourth all-around. Her first elite meet was the 2010 Cover Girl Classic in Chicago, where Douglas placed third on balance beam, sixth on vault and ninth all-around in the junior division.
At the 2010 U.S. Junior National Championships, Douglas won the silver medal on the balance beam, placed fourth all-around and on vault, and tied for eighth on the floor exercise. At the Pan American Championships, she won the uneven bars title and placed fifth in all-around.
Douglas was named to the 2011 U.S. World Championships Team. In the preliminary round of competition, Douglas delivered a strong performance in every event, placing fifth in all-around, but because teammates Jordyn Wieber and Alexandra Raisman notched higher finishes, Douglas was ineligible to compete in the all-around final due to the two athletes per country rule.
Douglas’ success didn’t come without hardships. In 2011, at the World Championships, Douglas placed fifth after an error during her routine. In March, at the Pacific Rim Championships, Douglas injured her ankle. She was later pulled out of the final rotation to prevent further injury.
“It was tough to see her go through those struggles, but it made her stronger,” Hawkins said. “She was more determined to achieve her ultimate goal; becoming an Olympian.”
Douglas competed at the Visa Championships in June. She won two other medals: bronze for floor, and gold for uneven bars. She also gained a spot on the American women’s Olympic gymnastics team during the Olympic trials.
“I always tell my daughter to just have fun when she competes,” Hawkins said. “This is your sport, and you love to do it, so just go out there and enjoy it. How many other times are you going to get to compete at the Olympics? Soak up every minute of it; push out all distractions.
“Fear is crippling; there's nothing to be afraid of. You’ve trained for this moment. You’re going to be nervous, but let it fuel and feed your desire to go out there and get what you want. That has always been the advice that I gave her and she has always risen to the occasion.”
Douglas is scheduled to take part in the uneven bars on Monday and balance beam on Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.