Name: Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas
Occupation: American artistic gymnast and reigning Olympic all-around champion
Why she’s a big deal: Winning one Olympic gold medal as a teenager is kind of a big deal—she’s won two. Not only did Douglas earn gold in the individual all-around at the London Olympics, but she also helped the USA climb to the top of the podium in the women’s team all-around as part of the “Fierce Five.” And while it’s surprising in retrospect, uneven performances meant Douglas wasn’t considered a favorite in the months leading up to London. But her confidence and ability, particularly on the uneven bars, earned her a spot on the American team and the nickname The Flying Squirrel.
Douglas also broke ground for black athletes by becoming the first African-American woman to win gold in the individual all-around at the Olympics. (It’s worth noting that the first black athletes to win an Olympic medal in any gymnastics event were Dominique Dawes and Betty Okino in 1992.) Douglas has spoken about the isolation and racism she experienced as a black athlete in a white-dominated sport; as she told Oprah, her fellow gymnasts jokingly called her a “slave.” And you wonder why there aren’t more black gymnasts.
Last moments at the Olympics: Standing on the Olympic podium while those around her cried tears of joy (Douglas’ mother) or devastation (silver medalist Viktoria Komova).
How has she been performing since then: Douglas is the rare gymnast to stay in top form after taking home Olympic gold. Though she took some time off following London, Douglas did the unheard of by coming back to the 2015 World Championships and earning silver to fellow American Simone Biles’ gold. It’d be easy to pit Biles and Douglas against each other – both are young black athletes at the top of a typically white sport – but the two consider their relationship more sisterhood than rivalry. And if the Olympics are anything like the World Championships, they’ll be the gymnasts to beat.
What she’s been up to off the field: Meeting Barack Obama. Talking to Oprah. Appearing on a box of Corn Flakes. Being the subject of a Lifetime movie. Growing three and a half inches. Starring on a reality show. Inspiring young gymnasts everywhere. Normal teenager things.
When will we see her in Rio: The women’s gymnastics competition kicks off on August 7th, two days after the Opening Ceremony. Events will continue over the following days, with the first round of medals handed out on the 9th and ending with a final round of events on the 16th.
How big are the stakes for her at the Olympics: Douglas is old (don’t stop to consider how old you feel after reading that). Female gymnasts, like female ice skaters, female models—women in general—are considered over the hill at the ripe age of 20. Of the Fierce Five, only she and Aly Raisman have not retired from competitive gymnastics. But bearing in mind the brevity of gymnasts’ careers, the fact that she’s coming back for a second Olympics with a recent international medal under her belt is nothing short of impressive. If she were to take home a second gold in the individual all-around, she’d only be the third woman in history to do so and the first since V?ra ?áslavská in 1968 (back in the days of the Olympics when female gymnasts over the age of 20 regularly competed and won).
Though this will likely be Douglas’ last Olympics, her legacy has already been clearly cemented, and fortunately there are multiple gymnastic events for her to make another stab at a medal. Of course if she (or another American such as Biles) were to take home the coveted all-around individual gold, it would mark the fourth consecutive Olympics where an American woman has won the title over gymnastic powerhouses such as China and Russia.