by Kelly Whiteside–Courtesy of USA TODAY
London – U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas made history Thursday, winning the most coveted prize of all, Olympic gold. Douglas, 16, became the first African-American to win the women’s all-around title.
Douglas led from the start, finishing with with 62.232 points and topping Russia’s Victoria Komova who had 61.973. . Russia’s Aliya Mustafina took the bronze. American Aly Raisman finished fourth after a tie-break ruling. She and Mustafina finished with 59.566, but the Russian won the bronze because the tie-breaker combines their top three scores of the day. Her 16.1 on the uneven bars to Raisman’s 14.333 made the difference.
Douglas began the day with a 15.966 on the vault, the highest score of the 24-gymnast field. She also had the highest score on the beam, the third of four rotations.
In her final event, the floor, Douglas began her routine to cheers of “Go Gabby!” As her techno music played, she had the crowd dancing as she turned North Greenwich Arena into Club Gabby. Cheers filled the place as she finished, her smile spread even wider as she fell into a bear hug from her coach, Liang Chow.
“I hope that I inspire people,” Douglas said. “I want to inspire people. My mother said you can inspire a nation.”
Four years ago, for the first time, the USA took the top two spots in women’s all-around when Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson won gold and silver, respectively.
Douglas and Raisman were both looking to become the fourth U.S. gymnast to capture the coveted all-around title, after Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin. The stage was set for the USA to make magic on Thursday. When a U.S. gymnast wins a gold medal in the all-around final, she instantly becomes on a first-name basis with America. Nearly three decades later, who doesn’t love Mary Lou?
Douglas also became the African-American female gymnast to win an individual Olympic medal since Dominique Dawes took silver in the floor exercise in ’96. “She was one of my inspirations and role models growing up,” Douglas said.
Missing among the 24 gymnasts competing for the title on Thursday was the teenager favored to win it all, reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber, who finished fourth in qualifying. Since only two gymnasts from each country are allowed to advance to the finals, Wieber had to watch her teammates from the arena.
For Bela Karolyi, the famed coach of the 1996 gold medal team, watching the all-around final without Wieber was like competing at what he termed an “Olympic invitational.”
In the wake of that heartbreak, Wieber’s bounced back and helped her team win the gold on Tuesday. “I’m most excited and happy about her,” Karolyi said afterward. ” This kid was hammered by the stupid rule, stupid rule.”
The Americans won their first Olympic team gold since the “Magnificent Seven” in 1996. Karoyli called the 2012 group a “stronger, more prepared, united” team. Though there was no Kerri Strug ankle-grabbing drama, there was the redemptive story of Wieber.
The Americans finished more than five points ahead of silver-medalist Russia. Romania took the bronze. In a sport usually decided by tenths, “That’s a good old fashioned shed-whupping,” as U.S. coach John Geddert put it.
Without Wieber in the all-around, Douglas entered as the favorite. In the team final, when the USA won the gold, Douglas performed four strong routines to claim the highest score – 61.465 – of any single gymnast. On Thursday, she faced strong competition from Raisman, who only did the beam and floor in the team final, and the Russians.
At 14, Douglas moved away from her family in Virginia Beach to train in Des Moines with Chow, who also coached Shawn Johnson, the Olympic silver medalist. Leaving home at such a young age, and adjusting to a new environment and host family was challenging.
In the past, Douglas has been undone by her nerves. Last year at the Visa Championships, Douglas imploded finishing seventh in the all-round. She said that experience helped steeled her for high-stake competitions ahead. “I think I’ve improved so much with the mental situation,” Douglas said before London.
“I learned about being a competitor,” Douglas said. “No one is going to feel sorry for you. No one is going to be like, ‘Ooh, you fell.’ This is going to be my chance to shine. You have to go out there and be fierce.”
Known as “The Flying Squirrel” because of her aerodynamics on the uneven bars, she now has a new nickname: Olympic champion.