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Gabby Douglas wins gold in the Olympic women's gymnastics all-around

Published August 2, 2012 2:24 pm

American Douglas completes her ascension with a dominant performance en route to gold.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

London • Tears fell from Olympic gymnasts Thursday like the hard summer rains that have soaked London.

There was joy.Gabby Douglas, the wunderkind from Virginia Beach, Va., bounced off the walls as high as one of her triple summersaults after becoming the third consecutive American to win the crown jewel of Olympic gymnastics — the women's all-around title.

There was bitterness.

Viktoria Komova of Russia, runner-up at last year's world championships, fell about three-tenths of a point short to the lithe teen known as "The Flying Squirrel." As soon as the results flashed on the scoreboard, Komova became inconsolable, waving away a sympathetic hand from a coach.

There was resignation.

American Aly Raisman, 18, stood stone-faced, head downcast and keenly aware of a lost opportunity after losing the bronze medal in a tiebreaker. Russian Aliya Mustafina was awarded third place after officials dropped the lowest scores for both gymnasts.

"I don't think it is fair," said Mahai Brestyan, Raisman's coach. "These kids are both deserving of the same medals."

The reactions represented the range of emotions that filled 02 Arena in North Greenwich on one of the marquee days of the London Games.

While many had strong opinions about their performances, they were unanimous in feting a Virginia teenager who left home at 14 to pursue her Olympic ambitions.

Douglas, 16, showed up in West Des Moines, Iowa, to train with Liang Chow, the man who coached Shawn Johnson in 2008. An exacting man, Chow wasn't sure whether Douglas could reach the heights she did in London, leading the United States women to the team gold medal and bouncing back with four more stunning routines to grab the individual accolades.

The "It Girl" of London was supposed to Michigan's Jordyn Wieber, the reigning world all-around champion. But the Americans are so strong, Wieber didn't qualify for the individual competition after finishing fourth in the preliminaries. Only two from each country are eligible to advance to the final.

While Wieber had to watch from the sideline, the buzz Thursday came from the high-strung teen who oozes personality on the mat as much as off it. Douglas is so precocious she persuaded her mom to let her move to Iowa two years ago to work with Chow. It took a full-blown campaign because Natalie Hawkins was having none of it.

Hawkins finally agreed when her two other daughters supported Douglas' decision to leave home. Douglas moved in with Missy Parton, whose daughter also trained with Chow.

Now Douglas has joined Nastia Liukin, Carly Patterson and Mary Lou Retton as the country's only all-around champions. She is alone as the first African-American gold medalist in the coveted event.

"Yeah, I kind of forgot about that," Douglas said of the barrier-breaking moment. "I hope that I inspire people. My mother said you can inspire a nation."

She inspired fans watching the Olympic gymnastics competition this week.

Raisman's coach called Douglas' superb performances in London perhaps the most surprising element of the competition. Brestyan had noticed Douglas' inconsistency in practice.

"Suddenly she hit three routines in a row," he said of the team preliminaries, team final and individual final.

Chow, though, knew his gymnast was a big-game competitor. Four years after Johnson lost the all-around gold medal to Liukin, a representative of Chow's Gymnastics catapulted to the top of the world.

"She's ready to move to a higher stage," he said.

It's not abundantly clear how much higher this Flying Squirrel can go. She has serious hang time in the uneven bars. But Thursday, Douglas was in command from the moment she launched into a back handspring and 2½ twisting somersaults for an impressive vault.

After that, Komova played catchup. Because victories come in the slightest of margins, the outcome remained in doubt when the leaders entered the fourth — and final — rotation. Douglas had another dazzling floor exercise, the event in which she gets to showcase her lighter side while performing gravity-defying aerial flips.

Komova went last. She had a solid program that just wasn't strong enough to overcome Douglas. The Russian anxiously watched the scoreboard as minutes passed before officials posted the results.

Once Komova recovered from the fact she had lost, the gymnast acknowledged Douglas "performed beautifully."

Douglas felt something special would happen when riding to the arena in a downpour. Her mom used to say rain was a sign from God that the day would be great.

"I just told myself, 'Believe,' " she said. " 'Don't fear, just believe.' "

The unbroken belief led to the kind of tears Douglas could share with the world.