Thursday in London, history was made as U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to win the all-around gold medal. It came just days after Team U.S.A. won gold at the women’s team event.
“Someone mentioned that I was the first black American [to win the all-around gold], and I said, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot about that!’” Douglas said. “I feel so honored.”
Douglas said she hopes to inspire people through her achievement, which was made possibly with the full support of her family and coach Liang Chow. At age 6, the young gymnast’s mother enrolled Douglas in formal gymnastics training. When she was 14, she moved from her family’s home in Virginia Beach to live in Des Moines, Iowa and train with the esteemed Chow, who coached Shawn Johnson to a 2008 silver medal. She lived with a host family and training for the Olympics was her first priority.
Her mother Natalie Hawkins says letting her daughter move away from home wasn’t easy. “I said to her, ‘I don’t want you to move away but if this is what you feel you need to go to the next level to make your dreams come true, I’m aboard.’ ”
But after years of sacrifices, the mother beamed with pride watching Douglas wear a gold medal during the ceremony. “I love her and I’m so proud of her,” Hawkins says.
Her final event in North Greenwich Arena was the floor exercise, when Douglas finished to the boom of a cheering crowd, camera flashes and an air of excitement. Commentators reported that if she could stick the floor routine, Douglas would win gold.
Beating Russia’s Victoria Komova by .259 of a point, Douglas squeezed out a victory. The bronze medal went to Russia’s Aliya Mustafina. Team U.S.A. team captain Aly Raisman finished in fourth place, though she had the same score as Mustafina. In a tiebreaker combining the scores of previous events, Raisman fell short.
But the bond of their team could not be broken. “She’s been working really hard so I’m really excited for her,” Raisman said. “But it’s definitely really frustrating because [Mustafina and I] tied for third place. I was so close.”
Due to the competition rules, only two gymnasts from each country were allowed to compete in the women’s all around. In a shocking qualifying round, gymnast Jordyn Wieber finished behind Douglas and Raisman on her team, but fourth out of all athletes in the qualifying round. Early predictions pointed to Wieber taking the all-around gold, so the fact that she wasn’t allowed to compete was the subject of much commentary.
“You are the Olympic all around champion and you deserve it girl,” Wieber posted to Twitter, in support of her teammate Douglas.
An American has won the women’s all around title for the last three consecutive Olympics, including Carly Patterson in 2004 and Nastia Liukin in 2008. Mary Lou Retton took the same title in 1984.