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How the gymnastics world changed, and then turned, on Gabby Douglas

Aug 14, 2016, 6:05 PM

RIO DE JANEIRO — She just finished seventh out of eight on Sunday’s uneven bars final, ending an Olympics where the focus was more on her facial expressions, hand placement during medal ceremony national anthems and perceived enthusiasm for her teammates than whatever she did in actual competition.

Now, Gabby Douglas was standing strong at Rio Olympic Arena with a backpack hanging from her shoulders, attempting to stand her ground, attempting to respond to the army of critics that had turned these Summer Games into anything but how she envisioned it.

“Well, in my head I had pictured it a little bit differently,” Douglas said. “I think everybody does. You want to picture yourself on top and doing those routines and being amazing.

“When you go through a lot and you have so many difficulties and people against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character,” Douglas continued.

“Are you going to stand? Or are you going to stumble?”

[Related: How Laurie Hernandez overcame disappointment]

Four years ago in London, she stood tallest of all as the Olympic all-around champion and the historic, breakout-star golden girl. She was the beaming, bouncing “Flying Squirrel” who captivated with her presence as well as her performance.

In gymnastics, they judge everything. And not just the judges. Everyone judges everything. Douglas knows how it works.

Here in Rio, at age 20, she didn’t merely fail to match her old peppiness and excitement. She also struggled to maintain at least the illusion of it. In gymnastics, sometimes you have to fake it. Like it or loathe it, that’s how it works.

Sources close to Team USA say Douglas maintains a level of distance with some of the staff and her teammates. That came through to many watching back in the United States.

Some of it is rooted in discomfort, if not outright racism, of the critics. Some fans were outraged that she didn’t put her hand over her heart during a medal ceremony or didn’t cheer hard enough for a teammate or sat off to the side by herself during the meet. Truth is, they would have found some other reason to hate on her. Sadly, that’s always been the case when it comes to Gabby.

Gabby Douglas
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Gabby Douglas was relegated to a supporting role in Rio. (Getty Images)
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Some of it is fair, though. Some of it is on Douglas, who, again, understands the unwritten rules and dynamics of gymnastics, a sport draped in sequences.

“Geez,” Douglas said, her eyes beginning to well up with tears, but never, ever, breaking. “I’ve been trying to stay off the internet because it is so much negativity. And … ah … I’m like, ‘What?’ … When they talk about my hair or me not putting my hand on my heart or me being salty in the stands and, you know, really criticizing me … and it doesn’t feel good. For me, it was a little bit hurtful.

“At first they were like, ‘Good job, you’re in the Olympics,’ ” Douglas continued. “And then they kind of turn on you. It was hurtful. It was kind of a lot to deal with and you kind of have to stay away from that … [With] everything I had to go through and everything I have gone through, it’s just been a lot this time around.

“I apologize for what may have seemed me being mad in the stands,” she said of the perception that she wasn’t cheering hard enough for all-round competitors Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. “I wasn’t. I was supporting Aly and I always will support all of them in whatever they do. I don’t want anyone taking it as I was jealous or I want attention. Never. I support them and I’m sorry that I wasn’t showing it and I should have.

“And for me, it’s been a lot,” she said. “I still love them, still love the people who love me and the people who hate me.”

She exhaled.

This entire Olympics has been a stress test for Douglas. It didn’t need to be this way. Some of it is the nature of the sport, this idea that an individual pursuit can be jammed into the concept of team – both in competition and then in support. Everyone here is competing with each other.

Yet what might be an understandable and natural emotion in any other pursuit needs to be glossed over with a broad grin, real or fake.

For Douglas, the gymnastics world also changed on her over the past four years. As detailed in Dvora Meyers’ book “The End of the Perfect 10,” the sport has gone from rewarding fluidity and flowery performances to obsessing over degree of difficulties that favor power tumblers and ferocious athletes.

Douglas is more classically trained, unlike Rio 2016 stars Biles and Raisman whose sky-high leaps and daring attempts are now suddenly favored. While Douglas assuredly envisioned repeating as all-around champion, she entered with routines that put her a sizeable 1.2 points behind Biles in difficulty. She really never stood a chance.


By the end, she was relegated to uneven bars, both in team and individual finals. Even then, she was America’s second-best in bars behind silver medalist Madison Kocian.

Douglas is an astoundingly great gymnast, but 2012 isn’t 2016. And she’s 20 now – just getting back to the Olympics was an accomplishment. Yet rather than find a role, or a narrative, as the elder statesman, the fading all-time great on one final Summer Games spin, she was in the middle of everything, not succeeding to her exacting standards and then showing it on her face.

Maybe that’s why she wasn’t always so excited, or still willing to play pretend. To overly criticize that, though, says more about the critics.

“For me, sometimes I step back and I’m like, ‘Wait, what did I do to disrespect the people?’ ” Douglas said. “I’m sorry if I offended them. What have I done? When I step back, [I think] ‘Huh?’ I’m like, ‘I was standing in respect for USA. I am coming out here and representing them to the best of my abilities, so how would I be in disrespect?’ I don’t get this part. Sorry.”

Douglas has nothing to apologize. She’ll attend the final two days of gymnastics and probably go overboard cheering on Biles, Raisman and Laurie Hernandez. She shouldn’t have to do that, either. Then it’s time to go home. Her competitive career is likely over.

Whatever lack of enthusiasm she displayed here wouldn’t even be noticed on a basketball team or at a swim meet or in just about any other activity where a laser-focused television camera isn’t stuffed in everyone’s face.

Across a disappointing gymnastics meet, she occasionally showed disappointment. That’s it.

Douglas is one of the finest gymnasts the U.S. has ever produced, an important breakthrough personality that inspired millions around the world. That was the case in London. That’s still the case in Rio.

And as she turned and left the gymnastics hall, the end of a tumultuous week to end an illustrious career, there’s still a fresh gold medal in that backpack. One day, perhaps, she’ll get the chance to fully appreciate it.

More Summer Olympics coverage on Yahoo Sports:


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"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins









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  They NEED to leave this YOUNG GIRL alone!!!!!  And those in the public and celebrities and others should SPEAK UP for least the black folks.  Now, I did say earlier that it appears like she bleached her skin a little but....she;s only 22,  Of course she is gon to experiment with fashions,  looks to find her unique style.  However, the haters haven't been letting up on her and I don't understand why.  She is no different that Zandaya, or Zoe or any other black girls searching for their spot in the world.  I am getting sick of hearing about her-cuz it's disgusting what they are bullying her about i. e. she didn't put her hand over her heart, she seem to be moody or jealous or unattentive...blah blah blah.  She isn't running her life by any of those fools who feel she has to get permission from them to live how she wants.  They have NO right to hate on her.  They need to look in the focking mirror and STAY in their focking lane...I'm sure throw can shade on them...about several things external and internal.  Wow!  America's olympic audiences appear soooooooooooooo immature these days.  Wonder why.  But!

Gabby's pretty and Gabby's an Olympian Gymnast. Black people weren't included in gymnastics years ago. Any time you're black and you do anything better in the white world than the whites, there comes the jealousy, bitchiness, bullshit. I, who have worked with them, KNOW, as do all the rest who work with them.

Black women picking on her hair, I don't know what their problem is. I remember when women wore their OWN hair and were pretty as pictures. I don't believe women wore WEAVES during the Cotton Club years, they just had to favor YT a bit more in the Skin Color Department. They weren't wearing spider webs down their backs in all kinds of colors looking like Ugly Caitlyn Jenner in Black Face.

Gabby, take your medals, bask in the glory or obtaining them; know that you made your mother and relatives proud and FORGET all the rest of the BULLSHIT. It's kind of hard to salute something that represents the slaughter of your people. That's the epitome of phoniness in the Phony Country of Greatness where no one can find the GREAT.

I appreciate the accomplishments of Gabby, Simone, and all the rest of the Black Athletes that participated in the Olympics and made many, many people proud as can be. You all are a strong, muscular, beautiful people. Let no one tell you anything else. You've more than proven YOURSELVES.

Gabby, you should have thrown your fist to the sky; like the two dudes of yore, that would have made white people's entire faces turn BLACK for an entire week on General Principle. That would have been the dickens to see, yesiree. No paint needed. They probably would have made you RETURN ALL YOUR GOLD MEDALS back to the Olympics, pronto.

Congratulations to all the winners. Beautiful, muscular bodies galore!!!!!!

Last edited by Norland

Sista Sunnubian wrote:  

Why won't they admit that the reason Gabby Douglass has been vilified is because she spoke about the racism she experienced in the "gymnastics" world.


  Now that makes MORE sense.  I couldn't figure out why. I really did think it was a fashion thang and I didn't know she had said that.'s make sense why they are hating.  And you're right sista Sunnubian....she is keeping it REAL by telling the truth.  And they were sooooooo happy when Simone fell..that gave one of their people a chance to get a gold. White people are sooooooo ridiculous.  Had it been a white girl?  It wouldn't  even have been an issue. Pitiful.  But!


Haters, Leave Olympic Champion Gabby Douglas The F Alone

“It was hurtful,” she told reporters about the barrage of criticism she’s received on social media.

08/15/2016 11:42 am ET | Updated 3 hours ago
Gabby Douglas: A f**king champ who has zero time for any online hate that gets thrown her way.

The Olympics are a time to celebrate beautiful team spirit, unbelievable athletic prowess and a non-xenophobic reason to chant “USA! USA!” But, of course, we can’t have nice things, so some people have taken it upon themselves to shame 3-time Olympic gold medalist and all-around badass Gabby Douglas on the internet.

After Douglas completed the final routine of her Olympic career on Sunday, ESPN reported that she choked back tears when asked about the barrage of criticism she’s received back home. 

“I tried to stay off the internet because there’s just so much negativity,” Douglas reportedly said. “Either it was about my hair or my hand not over my heart [on the medal podium] or I look depressed. ... It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It’s been kind of a lot to deal with.” 

To anyone who has the urge to spew hatred at a 20-year-old Olympic champion on social media, take this chance to think about a) why you feel the need to criticize her, and b) the impact said abuse has on a real, flesh-and-blood human being.

To review, since the Rio Olympics began on August 5...

People got angry that Douglas stood at attention instead of putting her hand on her heart during the medal ceremony for the women’s gymnastics team all-around gold. 

Just because you didn't make the all-around finals doesn't mean you have to be a disrespectful bitch Gabby Douglas!


People got angry about her hair

Can somebody do something to Gabby Douglas hair please?



People got angry about her facial expressions.

The subtext being: This young, black, female athlete did not behave and/or look in the way I, a random individual, think she should have in the midst of a competition I certainly do not have the skills to enter. Therefore, I must comment on it in a totally demeaning way.  

Gabby Douglas is one of three U.S. gymnasts in Olympic history to win three gold medals. She is the first African-American woman to win the individual all-aroundOlympic gold. She has written two books. She’s so damn inspiring that she has her very own Barbie doll. And she has done all of this before she is old enough to legally drink. 

Can we let an elite athlete who just left her teen years live?

“Ghostbusters” star and Olympics superfan Leslie Jones ― who sadly is no stranger to racist, sexist online bile ― jumped to Douglas’ defense with  #LOVE4GABBYUSA to encourage love for Douglas online:

Yo I just heard Gabby getting attacked on her page show her the love you showed me and I also got jack on the case!Sorry baby


Yo I just heard Gabby getting attacked on her page show her the love you showed me send to@gabrielledoug


And people have responded in kind, celebrating Douglas’ achievements, athletic skills and fortitude in the face of online hatred:

Gabby Douglas is one of three US women gymnasts EVER to win 3 Olympic gold medals. Show some damn respect.


You will always be an inspiration to young black girls. Thank you for representing your country with dignity!


When u are in your quiet moments @gabrielledoug know that u are supported and loved. U made us proud. U are enough.


Gabby Douglas is exactly what an American champion looks like, and we should be damn proud. #FlyingSquirrel forever.

Dear Twitter trolls: You will never ever be able to do this. 

Here's more POSITVITY ON Gabby she just won a gold.



“She’s sharing that it’s okay to be bare it all and be yourself.”

08/15/2016 02:08 pm ET | Updated 4 hours ago

I don’t know about you, but I don’t look like much when I’m going to my usual workout regimes.  I’m usually mentally taxed out and ready to turn in by the time I get to ready to turn up at hot yoga or to my gym.  I must say it’s refreshing to see women like Gabby Douglas look normal!  

She’s sweating  profusely day-in and day-out to achieve perfect stunts, flips, and tricks that would leave any of us with broken limbs, let alone, as some have called out, “raggedy edges.”  I can appreciate a real woman whose focus is not her appearance but her craft. Take note: We could all get some inspiration here.   

I can appreciate a real woman whose focus is not her appearance, but her craft.

We, women are very hard on each other.  I’m sure it takes confidence to achieve the kind of perfection these ladies exhibit on the world stage.  Gabby Douglas is well-aware of her hair and her heroism.  Perhaps, we should find that same grounding in ourselves.  

I’d like to propose a serious question: Why is it that men can fumble around on a football field with bolstering bellies and interesting hair, but no words are spoken?  Moreover, football players are hiding under helmets and padding. Gymnasts literally bare it all! 



As a pageant girl, the swimsuit competition is the scariest thing I ever did.  I’m just not that comfortable showing my body to the world.  Again, I’ll resort back to my first premise, it’s refreshing to see real women compete for what they want in bodysuits and as bare as they can come with hair in a bun, minimal makeup, and chalked bodies.  Gabby Douglas isn’t hiding from you.  She’s sharing with you that it’s okay to be bare it all and be yourself.  Find that same grounding in yourself! 

Gabby Douglas isn’t hiding from you. She’s sharing with you that it’s okay to be bare it all and be yourself.

Workout videos of the past and present show women in full faces of makeup and perfectly-styled hair.  Truthfully, these very videos create distortions of reality that make women feel inadequate and cause negative commentary against perfectly skilled Olympian, Gabby Douglas.  I’d rather be in a gym full of any kind of woman than to be tortured by unrealistic expectations of a workout video.  

I guarantee that if I walked on that world stage, I’d be picked apart for various flaws.  I can appreciate Gabby Douglas for being real and for making me feel like it’s okay to be real too.  Gabby Douglas is the complete package.

I can appreciate Gabby Douglas for being real and for making me feel like it’s okay to be real too.

It’s been known for Olympians to get endorsements for cereal boxes, etc. I suggest we all buy a deluxe box of Gabby Douglas everything. Perhaps we will attain some of her most prized qualities: confidence, poise, determination, charisma, and the list goes on.


Something's wrong with "black" Negropean women, Momentum; they've been living in the Land of the Caucasoid Phonies too long. Want to look like White Women.

Gabby's pretty and she's wearing her own hair; something Negropean women can't deal with anymore. They want the hair of THE DOG and wear it very well; just look like Trannies is all. More sexual confusion eye marshmallows (no more candy). Can't tell what the hell sex they're really sporting, all you can do is guess. I'm thinking lots of people have the genitalia of lots of animals included with the one their mother and father gave them, these days. Genitalia everywhere!!! Except with those male?! divers in the Olympics.


Last edited by Norland

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