As the first African-American to win all-around gold, Douglas follows Carly Patterson in Athens and Nastia Liukin in Beijing as the United States third straight champion in the event.
Gabrielle Douglas reacts after competing on the balance beam in the women’s alll-around final. (Getty Photo / August 2, 2012)
7:23 p.m. CDT, August 2, 2012
After two rotations: Gabby Douglas.
After three rotations: Gabby Douglas.
And after four rotations — all of them, the vault that requires precise strength, the uneven bars that ask for daredevil will and the desire to fly, the balance beam that begs an athlete to fall off, the floor exercise that has a boundary that isn’t always easy to respect — the winner?
Douglas, a 16-year-old who left her Virginia Beach, Va., home and her family when she was 14 so she could train and learn better gymnastics in Iowa, won the Olympic gold medal Thursday at the North Greenwich Arena. She led from start to finish, scoring 62.232 and leaving a pair of Russians, Victoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina, as disconsolate silver and bronze medalists.
Aly Raisman, an 18-year-old from Needham, Mass., who had been the surprise top American all-around qualifier while keeping reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber out of the finals, finished fourth.
Raisman had the same total score as Mustafina (59.566) but placed fourth because the tiebreaker counts the sum of the three best scores. With that, Mustafina had 45.933 points to Raisman’s 45.366.
Outside of the glum Russians — Komova said of her feelings about her silver medal: “The mood is really that of disappointment” — no one seemed unhappy for Douglas, who became the first African-American Olympic all-around champion. She follows Carly Patterson in Athens and Nastia Liukin in Beijing as the United States’ third straight champion in the event.
Supporting Douglas in the stands was her mother, Natalie Hawkins, as well as Missy and Travis Parton, whom Douglas calls her “second” parents. Douglas lives with the Partons in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she went to train under coach Liang Chow, the man who took Shawn Johnson to a world championship and Olympic all-around silver medal four years ago.
Douglas took a .326 lead over Komova into the final rotation, the floor exercise. Douglas’ power tumbling almost took her out of bounds once, but she danced on her tiptoes to stay inbounds, and when her score of 15.033 was posted, Douglas leaped into the arms of Chow.
This is Douglas’ second gold medal. She had already helped lead the U.S. team to gold.
“I wanted to seize the moment,” Douglas said. “I don’t think it has all sunk in yet. Team finals hasn’t sunk in yet. But it will.”
Had Raisman not had a stumbling performance on the balance beam, she could have medaled as well. Raisman had finished second in the all-around qualifying competition, just behind Komova and a little ahead of Douglas and defending world champion Wieber.
But Olympic rules decree that no more than two competitors per country can compete in the 24-woman finals, so Wieber, despite having the fourth-highest score, was left to watch stone-faced from the stands.
“Everybody makes you feel bad because you take the world champion’s place,” Raisman’s coach, Mihai Brestyan, said. “They’re not happy for you. They are mad for Jordyn.”
Brestyan said Raisman felt a little extra pressure because she had eliminated Wieber, and that might have contributed to her poor beam performance.
Raisman called her fourth-place finish “a huge bummer” and suggested it might have been better to award two bronze medals. “It’s also a bummer that they can’t just let both of us get a bronze medal,” Raisman said. “But I’m happy for the girls on the podium.”
Until this year, Douglas had been relatively unknown. Even U.S. women’s team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Douglas has climbed to the top rapidly.
“I don’t ever recall anybody this quickly rising from an average, good gymnast to a fantastic one,” Karolyi said. “It has been so amazing to see.”
And Douglas still has two more chances for medals. She has qualified for the uneven bars and balance beam event finals. But first?
“I want to celebrate,” Douglas said, “with my families.”