6. Gabby Douglas, U.S.A.
Gabrielle Christina Victoria “Gabby” Douglas was born on 31st December, 1995. She is an American artistic gymnast. As a member of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team at the 2012 Summer Olympics, she won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions. Douglas is the first woman of color and the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. She was also a member of the gold-winning U.S. team at the 2011 World Championships.
Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia to parents Timothy Douglas and Natalie Hawkins. She has three siblings. She began training in gymnastics at age six when her older sister, Arielle, convinced their mother to enroll her in gymnastics classes. Douglas began her training under the supervision of coach Dana Walker at Excalibur Gymnastics in Virginia Beach.At the age of eight, Douglas won the Level 4 all-around gymnastics title at the 2004 Virginia State Championships.
Douglas made her national debut at the 2010 Nastia Liukin Supergirl Cup, a televised Level 10 meet held in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Douglas placed fourth all-around.
Her first elite meet was the 2010 CoverGirl Classic in Chicago, Illinois, where Douglas placed third on balance beam, 6th on vault and 9th all-around in the junior division.
At the 2010 U.S. Junior National Championships, Douglas won the silver medal on balance beam, placed fourth all-around and on vault, and tied for eighth on floor exercise.
At the 2010 Pan American Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico, Douglas won the uneven bars title, and she won a share of the U.S. team gold medal. She also placed fifth all-around.
In October, at age 14, Douglas moved from Virginia Beach to West Des Moines, Iowa to train under Liang Chow, the former coach of 2007 World Champion and 2008 Summer Olympics gold medalist Shawn Johnson. Douglas was home schooled by her host family. Although Douglas’ former coach, Walker, stated in 2012 that she was convinced Douglas could have made it to the Olympics if she had remained in Virginia Beach, Douglas said, “Something clicked in my head that said, if I really want to make this happen I need to get better coaching.” The impetus for Douglas’s move to Iowa was when Walker had invited Chow to teach a clinic at her gym, Excalibur. Douglas was impressed when Chow was able to teach her how to perform the Amanar vault in a single afternoon. Douglas considered a move to Texas to train with a renowned coach there, but after that coach declined to train her out of loyalty to Walker, Douglas selected Chow. Chow was initially skeptical, since Douglas had been just one of hundreds of kids at the clinic in Virginia Beach. However, Chow subsequently informed Douglas’s Excalibur coaches that he had agreed to train her, but pointed out that he did not recruit her, saying, “I would never recruit anybody to my program.”
At the City of Jesolo Trophy in Italy, Douglas won a share of the U.S. team gold medal. She also placed second on floor, tied for third on beam, and placed fourth in the all-around and on vault. Douglas earned the silver medal in uneven bars at the CoverGirl Classic in Chicago. At the 2011 U.S. National Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota, Douglas tied for third on bars and placed seventh all-around. At the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, Douglas shared in the team gold medal won by the U.S. Douglas also placed fifth in uneven bars.
At the AT&T American Cup at Madison Square Garden in March, Douglas received the highest total all-around score in the women’s competition, ahead of her teammate and current world champion Jordyn Wieber. However, her scores did not count towards winning the competition because she was an alternate. Later in March, she was part of the gold-winning U.S. team at the Pacific Rim Championships, where she also won gold in uneven bars.
At the 2012 U.S. National Championships in June, Douglas won the gold medal in uneven bars, silver in the all-around, and bronze in floor. Márta Károlyi, the National Team Coordinator for USA Gymnastics, nicknamed Douglas the “Flying Squirrel” for her aerial performance on the uneven bars.
After winning a spot on the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, Douglas and her teammates were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated on the July 18, 2012 Olympic Preview issue. This marked the first time an entire Olympic gymnastics team had been featured on the cover of the magazine. She appeared on Rock Center with Brian Williams on July 19, where she discussed her family background and Olympic ambitions. On July 20, Douglas was featured on one of five Time magazine Olympic covers.
Douglas and her teammates, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber (nicknamed the “Fierce Five”), won the team all-around gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. She then won the gold medal in the individual all-around, becoming the first African-American woman, as well as the first woman of color of any nationality, to win the event. She is also the first American gymnast ever to win both the team and individual all-around gold at the same Olympics. Douglas finished eighth in uneven bars and seventh in balance beam. She is the first all-around champion to not medal in an individual event since women’s gymnastics was added to the Olympics in 1952.
On August 3, the Kellogg Company announced that it would feature a picture of Douglas standing on the podium with her gold medal on special-edition boxes of Corn Flakes in the fall. This breaks the tradition of Olympic athletes appearing on Wheaties boxes. On August 13, Douglas appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, which also featured U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.
On August 26, Douglas spoke about racist bullying at Excalibur Gymnastics in an interview with Oprah Winfrey and how it nearly made her quit the sport. She described an incident in which she had heard other girls at the gym say “Why doesn’t Gabby do it? She’s our slave” when chalk needed to be scraped off the bars. The CEO of Excalibur Gymnastics, Gustavo Maure, has denied these claims.
In September 2012, Nintendo announced that Douglas would be part of a new ad campaign for New Super Mario Bros. 2.On September 4, 2012, Douglas led the Pledge of Allegiance at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.
In September 2012, Alicia Keys was performing at the VMA Awards with Nicki Minaj debuting her new single “Girl on Fire”. During the performance Nicki Minaj rapped “‘Cause I win the gold like Gabby”, and Douglas then appeared performing gymnastics. Gabby and her gymnastics team also presented an award that evening.
On November 5, 2012, Douglas appeared at a campaign rally in support of President Barack Obama in Norfolk, VA, introducing Stevie Wonder and Olympic track and field gold medalist Francena McCorory.
In December 2012, Douglas released an inspirational autobiography, titled Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith (ISBN 0310740614), telling the story of her rise to the top of the gymnastics world, the struggles she faced along the way, and her strong faith that always kept her going. The book is published by Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins, and was acquired by Lisa Sharkey, HarperCollins SVP and Director of Creative Development. Grace, Gold, and Glory became a New York Times Bestseller, debuting at No. 4 on the Young Adult Bestseller List.
In December, Douglas was named the Associated Press female athlete of the year, receiving 48 out of 157 possible votes.
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