Gabrielle Douglas was born on December 31, 1995, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She began formal gymnastics training at 6 years old and won a state championship by the time she was 8. She moved away from her hometown and family in 2010 to pursue training with a world-renowned Olympic trainer, and was selected to compete with the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team at the 2012 Summer Olympics. There, Douglas became the first African American to win gold in the individual all-around event. She also won team gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
American gymnast Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas, better known as Gabby Douglas, was born on December 31, 1995, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Timothy Douglas and Natalie Hawkins. Her first experience with gymnastics came at the age of 3, when she perfected a straight cartwheel using a technique that she learned from her older sister, Arielle, a former gymnast. By age 4, Douglas had taught herself how to do a one-handed cartwheel.
With encouragement from Gabby's sister, Douglas's mother allowed Gabby to begin taking formal gymnastics classes at the age of 6. Only two years later, in 2004, she was named a Virginia State Gymnastics Champion.
When Douglas turned 14, she left her hometown and family, and moved to West Des Moines, Iowa, to train with renowned coach Liang Chow, known for molding American gymnast Shawn Johnson into a world champion and Olympic gold medalist. Travis and Missy Parton volunteered to be Douglas's host family in West Des Moines: according to Douglas's official website, she became like a big sister to the Parton's four daughters, one of whom was also a student of Chow's.
At the 2010 Nastia Liukin SuperGirl Cup — a televised meet held in Massachusetts — Douglas made her debut on the national scene, placing fourth all-around. She also placed third on the balance beam, sixth on vault and ninth all-around in the junior division of her first elite meet, the 2010 CoverGirl classic in Chicago, Illinois. Douglas went on to win the silver medal on balance beam and fourth all-around at the 2010 U.S. Junior National Championships, and then took the uneven bars title at the 2010 Pan American Championships. Her performance at that event also placed Douglas at fifth all-around and her performance helped the U.S. team win the gold medal.
Douglas was a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the team finals at the 2011 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo, Japan. She also won the 2012 Olympic Trials, which took place in San Jose, California, and was selected as a member of the national team that represented the United States at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
"Her unique blend of power, flexibility, body alignment and form has led her to be compared with three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes," according to an article on American-Gymnast.com. Douglas is the first African American to make the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team since Dawes in 2000.
The American-Gymnast.com article reported that Douglas's high-flying skills and high difficulty score on bars not only likened her to Dawes, but caught the attention of U.S. women's national team coordinator Martha Karoyli, who nicknamed her "Flying Squirrel."
At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Douglas and other members of the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team —Kyla Ross, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber -— took home a team gold medal. Fans worldwide watched as judges announced the team's medal win — the first gold medal for the American women's gymnastics team since 1996.
Douglas went on to compete in the individual all-around, and became the first African American to win gold in the prestigious event. Following her two golds, she competed in the individual uneven bars and individual beam events, but failed to medal in either, placing eight and seventh, respectively.
By 2012, 16-year-old Douglas had proven herself a champion, going from underdog to Olympian in a short time. She became the subject of significant media attention: she was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in early July of 2012, along with the rest of the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team, and on one of five covers released by TIME Magazine that same month. She was also a featured Olympian on Kellogg's special edition box of Wheaties corn flakes.
Road to Rio Games
After her historic Olympic win, Douglas moved to Los Angeles in 2013. In 2014, she returned to training with Chow and later that year began training under coach Kittia Carpenter. Douglas did not compete in 2014, but returned to international competition in 2015. She placed 4th all-around at the 2015 City of Jesolo Trophy, second in the all-around at the U.S. Classic and 5th overall in the P&G Championships. She was named to the Senior National Team and was selected for the 2015 US Women's World Championship team. She also won silver in the all-around at the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.
In 2016, Douglas won the all-around title at the City of Jesolo Trophy and placed fourth all-around at the P&G Championships.
At the Olympic trials in July 2016, Douglas finished seventh, after two falls off of the balance beam, however, she earned a spot on the 2016 Olympic team with fellow gymnasts Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and Aly Raisman. Douglas is the first reigning all-around Olympic champion to return to compete in a second Olympic Games since Nadia Comaneci did in 1980. She and teammate Raisman, who was also a member of the gold medal-winning team in 2012, are the first American women gymnasts to return to the Olympics since Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow in 2000.
2016 Olympic Games
On August 9, 2016, Douglas helped the U.S. women's gymnastics team grab the gold again with her impressive performance on the uneven bars for which she scored 15.766.
Douglas shared the team gold with Biles, Raisman, Hernandez and Kocian, a team which calls themselves “The Final Five.”
Raisman explained the meaning behind the team nickname on the Today Show: “We're the Final Five because this is [coach] Marta [Karolyi's] last Olympics and without her none of this would have been possible . . .We wanted to do it for her just because she's there with us every single day.”
She added: "This is the last Olympics where there's a five-girl team. The next Olympics is only going to be a four-person team."
The Final Five are the third American women’s gymnastic team to win gold, following team victories in 1996 and 2012.
Douglas had the third highest score of 61 participants in the qualifying rounds to compete in the women's individual all-around event. However, a rule which only allows two gymnasts per country to compete prevented Douglas from participating and defending her 2012 title. Teammates Biles and Raisman finished ahead of her in the qualifying round and went on to take the gold and silver, respectively, in the competition.
Douglas did compete in the uneven bars final, but met with more disappointment when she made an error on a handstand, earning 15.066 for her performance and a seventh place finish. Her teammate Madison Kocian took home the silver medal in the event.
The Olympic champion was also "heartbroken" over people attacking her on the Internet, according to her mother Natalie Hawkins. “She’s had to deal with people criticizing her hair, or people accusing her of bleaching her skin. They said she had breast enhancements, they said she wasn’t smiling enough, she’s unpatriotic. Then it went to not supporting your teammates. Now you’re ‘Crabby Gabby,’ ” Hawkins said in a Reuters interview. “You name it, and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?”
Douglas, who tearfully told reports the attacks were "hurtful," said she would remain positive. “I still love the people who love me, still love the people who hate me, and I’m just going to stand on that,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Douglas released her autobiography Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith in 2012. The Gabby Douglas Story, a television movie about her life, aired on Lifetime in 2014, and Douglas Family Gold, a reality TV show following Douglas and her family, premiered on the Oxygen channel in 2016.
On July 11, 2016, the day after she was named to the Olympic team, Douglas debuted her new Barbie Shero doll.
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