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Golden Girl: Gabby Douglas wows the world

LOIS ELFMAN Special to the AmNews | 8/11/2012, 12:02 a.m.
Golden Girl: Gabby Douglas wows the world

"We all knew and were waiting for Jordyn Wieber, but Gabby Douglas was by far the shining light on that team," said Lulu Alexandra, a British spectator who attended the gymnastics team final at the 2012 Olympics in London. "Gabby has the 'it' factor. You've either got 'it' or you haven't got 'it,' and she totally has buckets of 'it.'"

Last week, Douglas, 16, made history by becoming the first African-American gymnast to win gold in the women's all-around at the Olympic Games. While she is the fourth American to win gold, she is first to couple it with team gold.

"That's definitely an amazing feeling," said Douglas shortly after her victory.

Her brilliant smile and stellar technique have dazzled fans around the world, while her story about leaving home in Virginia to train in West Des Moines, Iowa, with coach Liang Chow, coach of 2008 Olympian Shawn Johnson, is well known. Douglas competed through pain that required physical therapy leading up to the games, and her victory has sparked heartfelt, emotional responses in the gymnastics world.

Dominique Dawes proudly changed the words on her website from the "only African-American gymnast" to win Olympic gold to "first African-American gymnast."

"I thought it was emotional, making history in '96, but I'm realizing it's just as emotional watching @gabrielledoug make history in her right!" Dawes tweeted. "I think Gabby will open up a door that has never been opened in terms of young African-American women knowing they can do a sport that's traditionally not been for girls of color," said Wayne Wright of San Jose State University, the only African-American head coach in Division I women's gymnastics. "She'll bring a different type of thinking about the sport for young African-American women. I almost equate it to Tiger Woods."

Wright said people have already been talking to him about getting their kids involved in gymnastics as well as keeping them in the sport beyond early youth. While not everyone has Douglas' talent, there is a world of opportunity for them in the sport, including college athletic scholarships. For Douglas, the world is at her feet.

"Gabby's facial expressions on the floor exercise confirmed how much she loved it," said Alexandra. "Britain loves good people, and with her smile, we fell for her!"