Gabby Douglas could have rested on her medals. After all, she owns two Olympic gold medals among her 19 medals from major competitions.
But the 20-year-old has no idea what she would do if not gymnastics, so she’s back.
“I was just like: ‘All right, I’ll come back for 2016,’ ” Douglas said of her decision to return.
In 2012, Douglas became the first African-American to win the Olympic all-around title. This year, she seeks to become the first American to repeat as Olympic all-around gold medalist.
Vera Caslavska, from the former nation of Czechoslovakia, was the last female gymnast to repeat, defending her Olympic title in 1968.
“Everyone’s very hungry,” Douglas said. “Everyone wants to come out on top. I’m very hungry, and I want it.”
But Douglas, the 2012 pre-Olympic favourite, entered last weekend’s US Olympic Trials as an underdog.
While Douglas was taking time off after the Olympics, Simone Biles was winning over the sport. Biles has won three consecutive world all-around titles, a first in her sport, and her 10 world championship gold medals rank as the most all time for any woman.
“I think everybody has their time, and everybody has their time to shine,” Douglas said. “She deserves the recognition, because what she has accomplished is truly amazing. I want to encourage her, too. I also step back, and I’m just like: ‘The steps I’ve taken are great, too.’”
Douglas’ triumph four years ago earned her popularity, celebrity and millions in endorsements. She signed deals with Kellogg’s and Nike. She wrote an autobiography, Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith. She acted, with parts in the Disney XD series Kickin’ It and in The Gabby Douglas Story.
Now, she has a reality television show, Douglas Family Gold, on Oxygen.
“It literally changed so much,” Douglas said of her life. “It was amazing, and at times, it was a little overwhelming because I was like” ‘Oh no, what do I do?’
“It was just different coming back to gymnastics and coming back to competition. Before, they’d say: ‘Gabby Douglas’, and it would be like crickets.’ Now, it’s like: ‘Gabby Douglas’, and the whole arena lights up. It’s a huge honour that everyone supported me. Yeah, it was just so different after the Olympics.”
Douglas, who took nine months off from training after the 2012 Games, insists gymnastics remains her priority. She is old in gymnast years. Biles remembers rooting for Douglas in the 2012 Games.
“It was amazing for the US to carry that tradition on,” Biles, 19, said.
Douglas left Chow’s Gymnastics & Dance Institute in Iowa in 2014 and eventually landed in Ohio with Kittia Carpenter at Buckeye Gymnastics.
She won the American Cup and the Jesolo Cup this spring. But while Biles was winning a fourth consecutive P&G Championships last month in an Olympic Trials warm-up meet, Douglas finished off the podium in fourth. Veteran Aly Raisman finished second and Laurie Hernandez third.
Douglas maintains that her experience will carry her at the Olympics this time.
“I feel like because I’ve been there, I kind of know what to expect and also I’ve learned a lot and that’s definitely helped me down this road,” she said. “I’ve just matured over the years. I feel like post-Olympics definitely helped me to mature.”