An African American blog of politics, culture, and social activism.
A Very Long Journey Was Very Swift
LONDON — To become the Olympic champion in the individual all-around event, Gabby Douglas first had to leave everything she knew best.
She had to pack up her bedroom in Virginia Beach, where she lived with her mother, two sisters and brother. She had to say goodbye to her two dogs, who used to sleep in her bed, and bid farewell to the beach, where she loved to ride waves on her boogie board.
But it was time to take the leap, however heartbreaking and awkward it would be. Even at 14, Douglas knew that.
So off she went about 1,200 miles to West Des Moines, Iowa, to train with a coach from China and live with a white family she had never met. Douglas remembers thinking when she arrived that she must be the only black person in the state.
“I was unpacking and saying, ‘Holy cow, what am I doing?’ ” said Douglas, who is 16. “It was like: ‘Where do I put everything? Oh, snap, where are the spoons?’ I’d wake up and say, ‘This isn’t my bed set, where am I?’ ”
As it turned out, Douglas did exactly what she needed to do to become Olympic champion Thursday when she defeated two Russians.
Liang Chow, who had coached the Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson, transformed Douglas into one of the best gymnasts in the world, helping her skyrocket from an average member of the national team to the top of the sport. And a couple with four young daughters became her second family, nurturing her in Iowa while her real family supported her from afar.
That move also was pivotal in Douglas’s making history. By winning the Olympic all-around title, she became the first black woman to do so. She also became the fourth American woman to win the all-around, following Mary Lou Retton in 1984, Carly Patterson in 2004 and Nastia Liukin in 2008.
Douglas won, scoring 62.232 points, and led the competition from beginning to end. Viktoria Komova, who sobbed into her coach’s chest when she learned she had lost, won the silver, with 61.973 points. Aliya Mustafina, the 2010 world all-around champion, won the bronze with 59.566 points. The other American in the competition, Aly Raisman, finished fourth after losing a tiebreaker to Mustafina.
Douglas said she had felt confident all along that she would win.
“It was just an amazing feeling,” she said, giggling. “I was just like, Believe, don’t fear, believe.”READ MORE