When Gabby Douglas was crowned the women’s all-around gold medalist in London four years ago, she became an overnight sensation. The world fell in love with the then 16-year-old powerhouse gymnast with the megawatt smile and the irrepressible sparkly personality. She was the success story Americans hoped for at the Games—just a young girl from Virginia Beach with big dreams who became one of only a handful of American female gymnasts to ever win the sport’s highest honor (in addition to leading her team, nicknamed the Fierce Five, to gold).
Few, especially in a sport where athletes peak at an early age, ever thought she would be back for more. But Douglas is not one to abide by conventional wisdom, and this summer she'll be back for more at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. At 20, she's attempting something unprecedented for four decades - not since 1968, when Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia defended her gold medal in the all-around competition, has a gymnast won the women’s all-around competition a second time.
“I don’t see it as pressure, I see it as such a great opportunity,” said Douglas of her Olympic return. “Everything is going really well and my body and my mind are in a good place. Why not give it all another chance? I just to make the best out of it.”
From total underdog to reigning queen bee, Douglas will enter into these Games in a very different position than she was last time. In the past four years, she’s built a small empire around the Gabby Douglas brand, which now includes a New York Times bestselling book, a range of leotards, major brand endorsement deals (Nike, Kellogg's, Proctor & Gamble), her new Gabbymojis, and a new TV show on Oxygen called Douglas Family Gold. As of last week, she even now has her own Barbie.
“My mom and I were a little bit hesitant about doing the show—I wasn’t sure about having cameras in my face all the time, 24/7, because my main focus is Rio,” said Douglas. “But we talked to the producers and they were like we don’t want to distract you from going for your dreams. So, we agreed to do it.” (The Douglases are also are also executive producers.)
Despite all the business endeavors, Douglas has remained steadfastly committed to her work in the gym. After taking more than a year off from gymnastics to live a “normal” teenage life, and switching coaches twice, she’s been spending between four and six hours a day training with new coach Kittia Carpenter. Douglas said her routine hasn't changed much since the last Olympics - she still prays before every meet (a ritual she’s stuck to since she was a little girl) and she still eats the exact same thing before competing. (Oatmeal or eggs, toast, and fruit in the morning. She’ll add asparagus if the competition is in the afternoon.)
“For the most part, everything has gone really smoothly and easily,” said Douglas, who currently trains in Ohio. “One thing that can be bad is those days when you are having a rough day in the gym and things just aren’t going your way. Not sticking things.. trying things over and over and still not getting the results you want.” It wasn't all that easy—the Olympic trials were a prime example of things not really going her way. She made the cut, but just barely after finishing seventh in the all-around competition.
On those days, she leans on her family, her faith, and some good tunes to turn her mood around. “They know if I walk in all peppy versus in a mood—they are like, ‘Oh, she must be tired or something. They’re my foundation,’” said Douglas. “I also like to meditate on a lot of positive scriptures and I like to jam out to my music in the car.”
Next month, she’ll have her whole family on the sidelines cheering for her in Brazil. She’s also excited to catch up with her Olympic “family” while she’s there. “Alyson Felix, Ryan Lochte, and I would love to see Serena again,” she said. “Athlete to athlete, we all know the struggle we are going through and the hard days spent in the gym and all the preparation. We can all relate on that level.”
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Of the Zika concerns many of her fellow athletes are dealing with, she said, “At the end of the day, are we going to focus on going to the virus, or going to the Olympics and doing our job? We are trained to combat these obstacles. We are like a bunch of soldiers, we are going to go over there to do our thing.”
Once she returns from Brazil, the ball’s up in the air as to Douglas’ next steps for the long-term. In the meantime, she’s excited to let loose and have a little fun after the Games.
“Once I am done with gym, we will do outrageous things. Nothing too outrageous, but I will be allowed to do more,” she said. In Douglas's world, that means retail shoe therapy (she’s admittedly a Christian Louboutin fanatic) and a trip the amusement park. “I love roller coasters. There is one by where I train, a ride called the Millennium, and it goes like 90 miles per hour and it’s straight up and straight down and it is so much fun.”
To learn more, visit teamusa.org. The Rio Olympics begin on August 5.