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Gabby Douglas: From London to Rio

Gabby Douglas in 2012 and 2016
USA Today Sports

Gabby Douglas: From London to Rio

Four years ago, Douglas earned the title of best gymnast in the world when she won two gold medals at the London Olympics.

After making history at the London Olympics—becoming both the first African-American gymnast to become the all-around Olympic champion and the first female gymnast to win both team and all-around gold in the same Olympics—Gabby Douglas found herself a household name all over the world. She published two books, appeared everywhere from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to her own reality show on Oxygen, and switched coaches to find a new training base in Ohio.

August 2012: Appearing on her own Kellogg’s box

Douglas didn’t have to wait long to learn how different her life would be after being named the Olympic all-around champion. Following in the footsteps of Michael Phelps and Kerri Walsh, Douglas appeared on a special edition box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes the day after she won the gold medal. It kicked off a flood of speculation about Douglas’s future endorsements, with some sports marketing experts estimating her earning potential as $100 million or more.

August 2012: Joining Oprah, Michelle Obama and Jay Leno on the talk show circuit

One of Douglas’s first appearances back on American soil was on Oprah's Next Chapter, where she opened up about the bullying she faced as a young gymnast. Douglas also sat side-by-side with First Lady Michelle Obama on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and revealed how she celebrated after winning two gold medals: an Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s. Obama, a vocal advocate of healthy eating, teasingly scolded Douglas for not picking a more nutritious reward.

September 2012: Performing center stage with Alicia Keys at the VMAs

Douglas walked the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards along with her teammates, and the Fierce Five introduced a performance by Alicia Keys during the show. Nicki Minaj appeared on stage with Keys to rap a verse of “Girl on Fire” that included the lyrics, “cause I win the gold like Gabby.” Then Douglas surprised the crowd by joining the singers on stage, performing a short gymnastics routine in leather leggings and a sparkly black top.

Q&A with Gabby Douglas

Gabby Douglas shares her earliest Olympic memory, hidden talents and why she identifies with The Hunger Games. 

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September 2012: Embarking on the Kellogg's Tour of Champions with fellow Olympians

Douglas and the rest of the Fierce Five took their gold medal-winning show on the road, visiting 40 cities with the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions. Adding fun music and colorful costumes to their routines, the gymnasts—along with fellow Olympians like Jonathan Horton, Nastia Liukin and Alicia Sacramone—entertained crowds across the country. At the Los Angeles stop, Redfoo from the band LMFAO joined the athletes to perform his song “Party Rock Anthem.”

October 2012: Winning honors from the Women’s Sports Foundation and Associated Press

Douglas would get recognized for her Olympic achievements again when she attended the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 33rd Annual Salute to Women in Sports Gala. Nominated alongside Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn and Missy Franklin, Douglas was awarded the top honor: Sportswoman of the Year (Individual Sport). Later in 2012 she would also be named the Associated Press’s Top Female of Athlete of the Year.

November 2012: Riding in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Douglas and her teammates stayed in the public eye as the holiday season approached. Waving and blowing kisses to the cheering crowds on Sixth Avenue in New York City, the Fierce Five rode in their own float during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

December 2012: Publishing her memoir “Grace, Gold, and Glory”

Still just sixteen years old, Douglas published her first book at the end of 2012. Subtitled “My Leap of Faith,” the autobiography chronicled the many challenges she overcame before winning Olympic gold, from being born with a rare blood disorder to being so homesick she wanted to quit gymnastics. Douglas also wrote about how her faith and family helped her persevere to achieve her dreams. 

January 2013: Walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes

After turning seventeen on December 31st, Douglas showed off her newly grown-up style when she walked the red carpet at the 2013 Golden Globes. Wearing a strapless sequin chartreuse gown, jewel-encrusted platform high heels and brand-new bangs, Douglas looked at home among Hollywood’s most glamorous stars.

May 2013: Returning to gymnastics training in Iowa and then Los Angeles

Gabby Douglas with coach Liang Chow at the 2012 London Olympics

Gabby Douglas with coach Liang Chow at the 2012 London Olympics. Credit: USA Today Sports

After nine months away from the gym, Douglas returned to Des Moines, Iowa to train with Liang Chow. The former coach of Shawn Johnson, Chow was by Douglas’s side in London and she often credited his guidance for her Olympic success. Rejoining Chow’s gym seemed to signal to the world that Douglas was serious about making a run at the Rio Olympics. Two months later, she left Iowa to train on her own at a gym near her family in Los Angeles.

May 2013: Releasing her second book, “Raising the Bar”

Douglas published her second book, a photo-heavy look at her day-to-day world. Through a mix of candid shots and exclusive behind-the-scenes photos, Douglas shared with her fans how she manages to balance being both a normal teenage girl and one of the world’s top athletes.

February 2014: Producing "The Gabby Douglas Story"

Douglas’s life story was adapted by the Lifetime Channel for a TV movie starring Imani Hakim as Douglas and Regina King as Natalie Hawkins, her mother. Douglas and Hawkins executive produced the film, and Douglas herself filmed a few gymnastics stunts. At the end of the movie real footage from the London Olympics is included.

April 2014: Rejoining and re-leaving Chow’s gym in Iowa

For a second time, Douglas returned to Iowa and Liang Chow’s gym only to leave a few months later. In a 2014 ESPNW article, Douglas agent Lowell Taub explained, “the business terms under which Chow wanted to work with Gabby moving forward toward Rio were not business terms Gabby felt were in her best interest."

July 2014: Winning a Kid’s Choice Sports Award

In the midst of upheaval in her gymnastics career, Douglas continued to be recognized for her achievements.  She attended the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Sports Awards and beat out Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Rodgers, Serena Williams and more to win the Most Enthusiastic Player Award.

August 2014: Finding a new training base in Ohio

After a longer-than-expected search for the right coach, Douglas finally found a permanent training home at Buckeye Gymnastics in Ohio. She moved to Columbus with her grandmother and found herself flourishing under coach Kittia Carpenter. Carpenter explained to ESPNW that she didn’t hesitate to welcome Douglas to her program. "I couldn't imagine telling any kid no, let alone an Olympic champion. People thought I was crazy to accept that challenge, but I believe in my coaching and I believe in her."

November 2014: Rejoining the U.S. women's gymnastics national team

Douglas already proved that she was back on the road to Rio when she was invited to train alongside the national team at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas in the summer of 2014. But since her gymnastics skills weren't yet competition-ready, she sat out the 2014 P&G Championships and wasn't eligible for a spot on the 2014 Worlds team. Douglas did show enough promise in her training that she was officially added to the national team in November, setting herself up for a return to competition in 2015. 

March 2015: Competing again at the 2015 City of Jesolo Trophy

Douglas returned to competition for the first time since the London Olympics at the City of Jesolo Trophy, a friendly meet in Italy between the US, Italy, Canada and France. Douglas helped her team place first and finished fourth in the all-around. With a score behind only Simone Biles, Bailie Key and Aly Raisman (also making her post-Olympics competitive debut), Douglas proved she was still one of the best gymnasts in the U.S. 

June 2015: Graduating from high school

Douglas took a quick break from training in Ohio to attend her graduation from Oak Park Independent School in Southern California. The 19-year-old shared her pride over earning her diploma on Instagram.

August 2015: Impressing the home crowd at the Secret U.S. Classic and P&G Championships

Douglas added two more successful domestic competitions to her post-London resume in the summer of 2015. First, she claimed second place behind Biles, the reigning national and world champion, at the Secret U.S. Classic. At the P&G Championships, Biles won her second consecutive all-around title while Douglas placed fifth after making a few execution errors that added up. Douglas’ best event was uneven bars, where she finished fourth.

October 2015: Claiming gold and silver at the world championships

Douglas was named to the women's gymnastics team for the 2015 World Championships. In Glasgow, Scotland, Douglas became the first reigning all-around Olympic champion to win a world championships medal since 1981. First, Douglas helped the U.S. women to a team gold, and then she claimed a silver medal in the all-around for herself, finishing behind Biles by just over a point.

March 2016: Going for gold at the AT&T American Cup and City of Jesolo Trophy

At the 2012 American Cup, Douglas competed as an exhibition gymnast—so when she earned the highest all-around total, her scores didn’t count and she had to count the victory as “unofficial.” Four years later, Douglas made the most of her opportunity to win the American Cup for real, beating out an international field that included her world championships teammate Maggie Nichols (but not Biles). Douglas continued her winning streak by returning to Italy for the 2016 City of Jesolo Trophy and winning another all-around gold. She also claimed silver on the uneven bars and bronze on floor exercise. 

Olympic champ Gabby Douglas soars at American Cup

Gabby Douglas won her first all-around competition since the London Olympics. 

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May and June 2016: Introducing "Douglas Family Gold" and Gabbymojis

In between winning gold medals and training for Rio, Douglas found time to expand her brand into two new arenas: reality TV and emojis. First, “Douglas Family Gold,” a show focusing on the loving bond between Douglas and her family, premiered on Oxygen. Then she created and sold a personalized cell phone keyboard with emojis, gifs and memes for her fans.

Gabby Douglas debuts custom emojis, new gymnastics emojis also announced

Gymnastics fans will be able to add cartoon Gabby as well as an official gymnast emoji to their keyboards.

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Gabby Douglas’ mom on what you won’t see in “Douglas Family Gold”

"Some stuff is a secret," said the mother of the reigning Olympic champion gymnast. 

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June 2016: Making her case for Rio at the Secret U.S. Classic and P&G Championships
With just two competitions left before the U.S. women's gymnastics Olympic Trials, where the Olympic team would be decided, Douglas aimed to show she was already Rio-ready. At the Secret U.S. Classic, Douglas only competed on uneven bars and beam. She earned a bronze on bars and wowed the crowd, if not the judges, when she narrowly saved herself from a fall off the balance beam.
At the P&G Championships, Douglas wasn't yet at her sharpest, and fell short of claiming any titles. She finished fourth in the all-around, fifth on floor exercise and sixth on balance beam and uneven bars.
June 2016: Covering Teen Vogue
Looking every inch the fierce athlete, Douglas appeared on the cover of the August issue of Teen Vogue. Biles also got her own cover.
July 2016: Competing for the final time on home soil at the U.S. Olympic Trials
Douglas arrived in San Jose for the Olympic Trials without her primary coach of the last two years, Kittia Carpenter. She instead chose to compete with another coach from Buckeye Gymnastics, Christian Gallardo, and explained that she needed a male coach to spot her when she's tumbling or warming up on uneven bars.

Gabby Douglas makes last-minute coaching change before Olympic Trials

Douglas competed at Trials without her coach of the last two years, Kittia Carpenter of Buckeye Gymnastics.

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Douglas again didn't compete at her peak abilities, falling twice off the balance beam. But her scores on the uneven bars were the third best at Trials, and the Olympic selection committee considered her strength on that apparatus and her ability to improve at the pre-Rio training camp, and named her to the Olympic team. 

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