Mar 27, 2015 at 10:35 AM

From - By Alyssa Roenigk

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The first thing you notice are her shoulders. Strong and symmetrical, they are well defined, powerful, cut, ripped and chiseled -- deserving of all the superlatives one might heap upon a pair of exquisitely crafted deltoid muscles. But on Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around gold medalist, artisanal delts are more than mere vanity plates; they are the tangible representation of the work she's done so far, and of the seriousness of her intention to become the first woman since Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska in 1968 to repeat as Olympic all-around champ, and the first American in history to accomplish the feat.

"Sometimes I FaceTime with my mom and I'm like, 'Mom, look at my arms,'" Douglas says, raising her brows and widening her eyes as she stresses the words "Mom" and "arms." Despite firsthand knowledge of all that's gone into shaping those shoulders, including four-to-six-hours-per-day, six-days-per-week workouts like the one she just finished here at Buckeye Gymnastics, Douglas seems almost surprised by her current physique.

She is taller, still slim, yet visibly more muscular than the Gabby Douglas of the London Games. She has shed her shy 16-year-old demeanor, speaking with more confidence and spark, yet with the measured vocabulary of an athlete who's spent the past two years having her interviews and intentions scrutinized. "I'm stronger than I was last time around," she says. "I think it's a maturity level. When I'm tumbling, I'm like, 'Wow. This is so much easier than before.'" Here, she lingers on the word "easier." "My gymnastics still feels light and effortless. Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with this talent again," she says, "a stronger talent."

That sentiment alone separates Douglas from her predecessors, none of whom would call their attempt at returning to competitive gymnastics "easy." To many, Douglas' seemingly carefree attitude toward a run at Rio signifies a lack of understanding about how demanding the next two years will be. She is working with aging machinery -- she'll be 20 during the qualifying window for the 2016 Olympics -- and competing against a young crop of American gymnasts that includes two-time defending world champion Simone Biles, 17, a gymnast Mary Lou Retton recently called "unbeatable" and "the most talented gymnast I've seen in my life."

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