She flew out of nowhere, all 4 feet 11 inches of her. Few around the country even knew her name four months ago when as an alternate she beat Jordyn Weiber at the America Cup.
But as it is at the Olympics stars are born and raised in mere “days”, and now fans around the world know the name Gabby Douglas, who on Thursday became the third American woman in a row and first African American to win the prestigious All-Around gymnastics title at the London Olympics.
Gabby Douglas, who until she was 14, grew up in Virginia Beach learning gymnastics from Coach Dena Walker at Excalibur Gymnastics. Two years ago, she moved to Iowa to train under Liang Chow.
We will never know if Gabby would have progressed enough at Excalibur to get this far. She doesn’t think so. She told Mark Emmert of the Indianapolis Star, “I don’t think so. I’m not trying to put bad on them, but you know … I just want to thank them, too, because they took me so far.”
It is interesting how Gabby met Chow, he came to Virginia Beach to give a clinic at Excalibur. He says he didn’t even notice Douglas and that she and her mother Natalie Hawkins virtually showed up on his doorstep one day asking him to take Gabby on. Chow says he almost tried to talk them out of it, saying he wasn’t sure he could prepare young Gabby for London in just 24 months.
Coach Walker was undoubtedly shocked. Her girls had made several national teams, including Randy Stageberg now at the University of Florida. None had made an Olympic team, and a gold medal winning Gabby Douglas would have put Walker and Excalibur on the map.
Gymnastics is not cheap; I have two seven year olds (boys) that went once a week this summer and it’s not free. Coach Walker told Chris Reckling Ms Hawkins didn’t pay, or maybe wasn’t expected to pay for gym time and lessons and was even advanced or given thousands of dollars that was expected to be repaid later.
Ms Hawkins reportedly denied this to Mr. Emmert.
It is not unusual for parents of young athletes to move them away from home in hope of giving them the opportunity to earn elite status in whatever sport they excel in. Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova, the Williams sisters, Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg were sent to Florida by their parents to be trained under coach Nick Bollettieri.
Mary Lou Retton, Kerri Strug and Nadia Comaneci are among nine Olympic champions who moved to Houston to learn gymnastics from Bela Karolyi.
So where does Gabby go after winning Olympic gold?
The 16 year old will most likely lead her teammates on a nationwide tour, tickets will be sold, and Olympians will be paid.
And by the way, just two weeks ago, she signed her first sponsorship deal with Procter & Gamble.
That’s Covergirl makeup, tooth paste, shampoo and even paper towels.
Will Gabby Douglas ever return to Virginia Beach, and if so is the now public “she said, she said” statements made by Coach Walker and Ms Hawkins enough to keep the Olympic champ and her mother away from Excalibur? If so, that’s too bad. Young girls who have spent their days at the Virginia Beach gym have experienced some special days. Knowing one of their own has become the most decorated athlete in the world, and getting a chance to see her where it all happened would be a good deal for everybody.
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