Pieces of a Champion: In Defense of Gabby Douglas

Everybody seems to want a piece of a high profile athlete. A piece of their personal lives. A piece of their success. A piece of their failure. Not to mention a piece of their bank account. So many pieces are pecked away until all that remains are exactly that-pieces.

Gabby Douglas is a 20-year-old, Olympic gymnast who despite her accolades has fallen completely out of favor since winning two gold medals in 2012. Everything from the pressing of her hair, to the placement of her hand during the National Anthem has been obsessively scrutinized.

Granted, gymnastics is a sport that’s heavily judged and critiqued. Competitions are almost the opposite of most sports in that officials start by looking for deductions. Gone are the days of the perfect 10.

Nothing. Nothing is perfect in gymnastics. Including the once light hearted young girl who captured hearts in the London Olympics.

I noticed something wasn’t quite right with Gabby going back to the P&G Championships in June. The meet is an important benchmark in the run-up to qualifying for the Olympics.

She was physically distant from the other competitors who rushed to high-five and congratulate one another in-between routines. Even more peculiar was how her soon to be teammates didn’t seem to take the initiative to bring her into the circle.

She wasn’t on the outside looking in. Gabby Douglas, defending Olympic all-around champion was just on the outside.

How the relentless castigation of Gabby Douglas happened is a mix of what we know, and what we’ll never know about the champion’s journey from London to Rio.

Gabby, 17, returned from London with two gold medals and was immediately swarmed by a PR blitz. She was featured on the cover of Time magazine, special edition Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box, interviewed by Oprah, led the pledge of allegiance at the Democratic National Convention, released a best-selling autobiography and The Gabby Douglas Story television movie debut.

Professionally, she recovered from injury in the run-up to this year’s Games, and was the silver medalist at the 2015 world championships (behind Biles).

She received the third-highest point total of any gymnast in Rio. As in 3rd best gymnast in the world. Unfortunately, she missed out on defending her title in the all-around because only two athletes from each country are able to move on. She was narrowly behind Aly Raisman.

Douglas has done everything right except fake enough claps and smiles to make haters feel justified in their hating.

The focus on Gabby’s appearance and personality is in part thinly veiled, punk-ass sexism. Especially, the Greek Chorus style of defining a woman by her emotions instead of celebrating her strength under enormous pressure.

Michael Phelps mean mugs the hell out of an opponent and his expression is funny. Even meme worthy. Jimmy Butler shoots a WTF glare at DeMar DeRozan and he’s a “fiery competitor.” While Douglas is “Crabby Gabby.”

Douglas has gone on an apology tour that needs to end as soon as possible. She’s earned the right not to be a one woman pep rally if that’s not who she is.

“I apologize if what may have … seemed to be me really mad in the stands. I wasn’t. I was supporting Aly, and I always will support them and respect them and everything that they do. So I never want anyone to take it as I was jealous, or I wanted attention. Never.”

“Not really,” she said when asked if she had second-guessed her decision to return. “For me, when you go through a lot, and you have so many difficulties and people against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character. Are you going to stand, or are you going to crumble? In the face of everything, still stand. I have no regrets coming back for a second Olympics. It’s been an amazing experience.”

I hope Gabby Douglas picks up the pieces of her incredible accomplishments and moves on to the light and respect that she has emphatically earned.


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