Gabby Douglas Seeks to Bounce Back From Her Olympic Stardom

Gabby Douglas on the uneven bars at the United States Olympic trials last week. Douglas made the team, finishing seventh in the all-around, but fell twice from the balance beam. (PHOTO CREDIT: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)
Gabby Douglas on the uneven bars at the United States Olympic trials last week. Douglas made the team, finishing seventh in the all-around, but fell twice from the balance beam. (PHOTO CREDIT: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

To start her final push to the Rio Olympics, Gabby Douglas — the defending Olympic gymnastics champion in the all-around — will pack her bags and head to the Sam Houston National Forest, about 65 miles north of Houston, for a nine-day boot camp.

O.K., it’s technically not a boot camp. On paper, it’s actually an official pre-Olympics training camp at Martha and Bela Karolyi’s ranch, a gymnastics enclave reached by gravel-and-dirt roads in the middle of the woods, and it’s for the five women and three alternates who will head to Brazil in a few weeks.

There will be no reporters. No agents. No sponsors or family. It’s exactly what Douglas needs: a quiet and focused chance to rediscover the original Gabby Douglas, and what got her to the top in the first place. And that was not her marketability as a charismatic, upbeat woman who was the first black gymnast to win the Olympic all-around.

It was her gymnastics.

“Just put me to work,” Douglas said last Monday, a day after Martha Karolyi, the national team coordinator, named her to her second Olympic team. “I can do this. I’m not going to let myself go out like this, for it all to end like this.”

After falling off the balance beam on both days of the Olympic trials, Douglas barely made the team for Rio. She finished seventh in the all-around, and that relatively poor finish prompted some fans to wonder why Karolyi would take a chance on her, especially with the Olympics so near.

What saved Douglas, though, was that Ashton Locklear, the gymnast with whom she was competing for the team’s final spot because both are uneven-bars specialists, does not compete in the floor exercise or the vault. Douglas does.

The team needed Douglas in the uneven bars in the team event, and at least on the vault in the qualifying for the team event, said Karolyi, who added that she would personally shape up Douglas for Rio.

“She was a little bit off in her training, and I don’t know exactly the reason, maybe the coaching situation,” Karolyi said. “But I’m pretty confident that all of these things will go in a good direction and we can work it out. Certainly, she hasn’t performed to her potential.”

Karolyi knows what Douglas can do. Anyone who has watched Douglas compete has seen a glimpse of it.

The original Gabby Douglas became an unexpected Olympic champion four years ago, after her coach, Liang Chow, transformed her from an average national team member to one who soared to the top of her sport. Douglas was 16, a chatty and bubbly and joyful teenager tucked into a tiny, lithe but powerful body. When she won the gold, she broke a barrier, and that was when everything stopped being completely about gymnastics for Douglas.

Her new fame led to a book and a made-for-TV movie, but also to a rash of coaching changes and at least one cross-country move — little of it escaping the eyes of her 827,000 Twitter followers.

And therein is the good and the bad of a gymnast trying to rebound from stardom, back into the gym. When Douglas was 16, her life was all about gymnastics. At 20, it’s become much more complicated.

In some ways, it’s amazing that Douglas even made it to trials.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Juliet Macur