It might seem a little early soon to do a career retrospective on a 16-year-old, but even as an 8-year-old, Gabby Douglas could do more pushups than you. At the risk of gushing, Douglas has already been through soaring highs and heart-breaking lows on her path to becoming all-around Olympic champion.
Some champion gymnasts were stars from an early age. Jordyn Wieber, the 2011 world champion who was kept out of the Olympic all-around by a technicality, was named to the national team in 2006, when she was 11. Wieber won every all-around competition she competed in from 2008 until Olympic trials, when Douglas beat her. Success came much later for Douglas.
She always had talent. In 2004, at age 8, Douglas was the Virginia state champion. This GIF is from video that appears to be from that meet, though she could be a year or two older. As a tiny little thing, she could already swing bars.
She competed in the 2008 junior national championships as a Level 10 (thats' a grade below Elite, the Olympic level). This is Douglas as a 12-year-old:
Notice how she already can perform a full-twisting double back flip. That's her first tumbling pass, and she doesn't quite control it. But you can see her potential with the great flexibility and height she got with her switch ring leap:
Still, she was not yet a star. Douglas was 17th on floor and 16th in the all-around.
At the 2009 junior nationals, Douglas wasn't very confident on beam. But she could do some of the hardest tricks she performed in the Olympics, like her full-twisting back flip.
This routine scored well -- she placed fifth. But Douglas was only 31st in the all-around.
Here Douglas competes at a small competition held at her Virginia gym in 2010. This is what non-Olympic gymnastics is like: bad lighting, Party City decorations, cheering parents and bored siblings, all under the roof of what is usually a converted warehouse that might not have AC.
Things started picking up in 2010. Douglas was named to the national team. She got a silver on beam at junior nationals. After the Beijing Olympics, Douglas had begged her mom to let her move to Iowa to train at the same gym as Shawn Johnson, 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the all-around. In October 2010, mom relented.
In early 2011, Douglas got to represent the U.S. at a meet in Italy. She earned a silver on bars at at the U.S. Classic in Chicago. She had a chance to shine before a huge audience at the national championships that August, but she did not shine. As she started doing her beam dismount -- two back handsprings into a double back flip off -- she freaked out and stopped in the middle. Balking is a great way to hurt yourself:
She got back on the beam to try again, and balked again. She finally made it on the third try.
She was written off because national team coordinator Marta Karolyi does not trust gymnasts who freak out on beam. Yet somehow, after going to a few national training camps, Douglas was named to the world championship team. There she competed her bar routine, and made it to finals.
She tied for fifth after hitting her feet on the low bar. But Douglas was getting her confidence back. She placed fifth in the all-around in prelims, but wasn't able to compete in finals, because two of her American teammates qualified ahead of her. Only two per country were allowed to compete. (Sound familiar?)
In 2012, Douglas's first big meet was the American Cup, where she was the alternate, meaning she got to compete but her scores didn't count. (This was when The Atlantic Wire began holding Gabby watch parties.) But her unofficial score beat everyone -- including Jordyn Wieber.
One reason was her incredibly high tumbling -- look at her rebound on this double backflip, via Gymnastics GIFs:
This is when she really got momentum. She almost beat Wieber at nationals, despite falling on beam. Then at trials, she beat Wieber out right.
That was even with some big wobbles, even with doing a release move on bars almost one-handed. Watch how her right hand slips off and she just keeps going like it's nothing:
Then she went to the Olympics and was awesome.
We hope more awesomeness is to come.
Want more gymnastics? Check out our other GIF guides:
- Gabby Douglas's Awesome Night: A GIF Guide
- What to Watch For in the Women's Gymnastics All-Around Finals, in GIFs
- How the U.S. Gymnastics Team Crushed the Russians: A GIF Guide
- The Weird End to the Men's Gymnastics Team Final: A GIF Guide
- Why Jordyn Wieber Didn't Make It: A GIF Guide
- A GIF Guide to the U.S. Gymnastics Team's Biggest Rivals
- Get to Know Your U.S. Gymnastics Team Through GIFs