African-American Gymnast Aims for Olympic Gold

    Mike Richman
    Gabby Douglas, 16, is a gymnast to watch at the London Olympics.  She finished first at the U.S. Olympic trials to earn an automatic berth on the U.S. team.  In London, she hopes to match the feats of another African-American gymnast who excelled at the Olympics.

    Douglas is the only African-American on the U.S. women's team.  Her top role model is Dominique Dawes, a three-time Olympian and the first African-American to win a medal in an individual Olympic gymnastics event.

    Douglas was in awe the first time she met Dawes, the bronze medal winner in the floor exercise and a team gold medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

    "It was actually supposed to be a surprise, and I was just so shocked and so thrilled after all these years I could finally meet my role model," said Douglas.

    Reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber is considered the premier U.S. women's gymnast.  But Douglas recently upset Wieber in all-around at the U.S. Olympic trials by one-10th of a point.

    Winning the trials, however, does not guarantee Olympic success.  

    Shawn Johnson beat Nastia Liukin convincingly at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials.  But Liukin won the gold medal in all-around that year in Beijing.

    Douglas has gained extra confidence training with Johnson for the Olympics.

    "I kind of watch her on the side sometimes seeing how quick and how precise her arms are on beam, so I kind of take that in," Douglas added.  "If she's crooked she fixes it in the air, now she lands straight.  So I kind of watch her and see how she handles the pressure."

    Douglas' favorite apparatus is uneven bars, and her spectacular, high-flying routine amazes onlookers.

    She is so light and quick as she flies between the bars that U.S. women's team coordinator Martha Karolyi has dubbed her the "Flying Squirrel."  Douglas soaks in the admiration.

    "I love showing off for the crowd, getting my release so high," Douglas explained.  "I can just hear the gasp.  They're just like 'Oh.'  And I'm just like, 'I'm just going to catch the bar, guys, like calm down, I got this.'  Just seeing their reactions it's so awesome."

    With her bubbly personality, Douglas beams with confidence about her gymnastics potential.  The 16-year-old also radiates optimism about her chances for success in London.

    "I think I get this from my mom," Douglas said.  "She's definitely a go-getter, like if she wants something she'll fight for it, and at the end she'll come up on top and she'll have it."

    Douglas is on what is perhaps on the strongest U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team since 1996 in Atlanta.  Her performance will likely have a major impact on the U.S. chances of winning the gold medal.
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