“Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.” These are the first words 16-year-old gymnast Gabrielle Douglas tweeted after she won the all around gold medal at the London Olympics yesterday. On the stadium floor, Douglas also told a reporter that “the glory goes up to Him, and the blessings fall down on me.”
In a first-person ESPN article published after her win, she said she was “in some pain from a tweaked muscle” when she arrived in London and was “feeling a little down,” but her coach Liang Chow advised her to ignore the pain. “He got me refocused, and, of course, he was right. When I got to the competition and all the nerves kicked in, I didn’t feel a thing,” said Douglas.
Just months ago, Douglas’ coaches “didn’t believe that she had the mental tenacity to pull this off,” Jackie MacMullan said in an interview with ESPN, but Douglas told NBC News that she has been dealing with the pressure and gaining confidence by “meditating on scriptures.”
“Tonight, I didn’t think about avoiding mistakes — that’s what gets you into trouble,” Douglas wrote in her ESPN essay. “Instead, I just thought about going out there and representing Team USA, my coaches, my family and myself as best as I could. I just wanted to enjoy the moment.”
It took Douglas and her sisters two years to convince their mother that the then 14 year old should be allowed to move from their home in Virginia Beach to train with Chow in Iowa. In an inspirational video about what it takes to raise an Olympian, Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, said Douglas had been a child who would never leave her side, and during a 2011 family visit, Douglas was so homesick that she asked to come home. Her mother told her, “Life is not easy. You have to fight and just refuse to quit.” Now Hawkins says it was worth the sacrifices to see her daughter achieve her dream.
Douglas is the first African-American to win gold in the all-around competition, a fact that had former Olympian Dominique Dawes in tears as she reported on its significance for Fox Sports. Dawes was part of the 1996 “Magnificient Seven” gymnastics team that won the first U.S. women’s team gold. (This year’s “Fab Five” that included Douglas also took the team gold.) She said her tears were not only for Douglas and her family, but for the historical moment and what it would do to inspire young African Americans. Asked what advice she would give the young champion, Dawes said, “Keep God number one in your life. … Keep him first and foremost and only be guided by him.”
As Douglas manages what some are calling a meteoric rise to prominence, she’ll have to deal not only with accolades but with criticism. Already there has been criticism of the champion’s hair care. Ingrid Banks, Associate Professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Loop-21 that this criticism “has deep historical roots dating back to the late nineteenth century [when] black people equated ‘proper grooming’ standards as a weapon in the fight against segregation.” Banks says the focus on Douglas’ hair “illustrates, in a painful manner, how black people continue to hold on to outdated ideas that are no less problematic today as they were in the past.”
Never mind that, though. Gabby “woke up in London on Thursday morning to the beat of raindrops on the roof, and she knew it was going to be a great day,” Phil Taylor wrote at Sports Illustrated. “‘My mom always told me that rain was God’s manifestation of something really special about to happen,’ she said. She was right, because by the time Douglas, the pint-size, 16-year-old gymnast, closed her eyes and fell asleep Thursday night — if she ever did — she was the Olympic gold medalist in the all-around competition, which will only change the rest of her life.”
Congratulations, Gabby Douglas! You’ve done us all proud.