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Gabby's journey has just begun
The exhaustion was clear, etched in every answer and movement, and still Gabby Douglas flashed that bright, winning smile. That’s part of what stars do. That’s part of fame. Already, she was learning.
What a week she’d had. First helping her U.S. gymnastics teammates claim the second team gold medal in her country’s history. Then making more history -- her own history -- by becoming the first African-American to win the gold medal in the individual all-around final and the first American to win both team and individual gold.
Then, having thrust herself to the mountaintop of the sport, she came crashing down: She finished last in the individual uneven bars event, and seventh of eight on the balance beam.
“Definitely it’s a roller coaster ride,” she said Wednesday. “We have our ups and downs. But it’s been an amazing experience. It went by so fast. I learned how to seize the moment. This experience in London has been so great for me.”
She has seized it, this moment that she made her own, and now she will return home needing to master what is hers. Fame is a fickle friend, at one moment your biggest support, at the next a vicious burden. That, too, she has learned.
She has inspired, and among a gymnastics team that glows with gold and has been one of the great stories of the Olympics, she shines brightest. That has brought TV interviews and autograph seekers and children inspired by her and also the other side – the crude and patently stupid criticism of her hair, the reports of her mother’s bankruptcy, the fact that life under the spotlight illuminates all things, the personal and private alike.
“I love everyone just coming up to me and congratulating me and saying you’ve inspired so many people,” she told FOXSports.com. “The thing I dislike is, you’re on the big roll and you’re famous and people go digging, and whether it’s financially or about people’s hair I dislike people digging about your stuff.”
She smiled while she spoke, she beamed, and when she was done talking about her shift from anonymity to household name, the fatigue seemed to settle in again, like a cloud following her from place to place. In the days preceding this one, in the two individual events that could have netted her two more medals, she was flat and listless and afterward, national team coordinator Marta Karolyi explained what had happened on the floor, and why.
Karolyi was talking gymnastics and how Douglas had struggled after so much success, but she might just as easily have been offering a metaphor for what Douglas will face going forward with her fame permanently in tow.
“I think it was overwhelming, winning the big medal which is the dream of any gymnast and all the time what was given to her and all the "Today" shows and media and everything,” Karolyi said. “She’s a young girl, she wasn’t even in the limelight before so it’s too much too quick and that she wasn’t able to focus the same after the all-around was unfortunate. But we’re human beings and she’s a young girl and if she decides to stay in gymnastics I can foresee a fantastic future for her.”
Douglas is winning and funny and authentic, both in her childlike sweetness and in the adult now emerging with a directness and mature way of handling all these things. She is 16, somewhere between a girl and a woman, and yet she bridges both those worlds with a frankness and likeability many spend years trying to hone.
But Karolyi is right. This is new and unexpected. When Douglas left her Virginia Beach home two years ago to move to Iowa to train, few saw this coming. Few saw stardom. Even a few months ago, when talk was she was a promising potential member of this U.S., team, no one talked of her stealing the show.
What a trip it’s been, “a good journey” she called it, from Iowa and obscurity to forever changed and known.
“We’re 16-year-olds and we have a lot of pressure on our shoulders and that’s kind of a lot for a teenager,” she said. “Dealing with that is kind of a little bit hard, but we learn how to deal with it. It’s not about winning or losing it’s just about putting your all into it. You’ve made it here and you want to put your all into it.”
They put their all into it, Douglas first and foremost among them. She won even if that was incidental to her training – two gold medals and a new life.
Gymnastics may be over here, but what Gabby Douglas accomplished in London and what it means for her going forward has only just begun.
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