By Jo-Ann Barnas – Special to USA Gymnastics
WESTERVILLE, Ohio – The bell is displayed in a place of prominence and convenience – near the middle of the gym at Buckeye Gymnastics.
Made of antique brass and adorned with a bouquet of plastic red flowers, the bell’s purpose is more than decorative.
When you hear it ring, it signals that an athlete has learned a new skill or made a big improvement.
For Gabby Douglas, its ringing has served to celebrate both occasions.
For example, on the day she got back her in bar stalder full pirouette on uneven bars, Douglas skipped over to the bell, grasped the rope and… Ding!
Ditto for the time when she mastered her Shaposhnikova-half on the same apparatus. . . Ding! Ding!
Welcome to Buckeye Gymnastics, which since last summer has been the training home for the 2012 Olympic women’s all-around champion.
Owned and operated for the past 32 years by former Ohio State gymnast David Holcomb, the club has played an integral role in Douglas’s Olympic comeback.
She said the gym, combined with her working relationship with new coach Kittia Carpenter, has helped her regain confidence as she works toward a return to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“The relationship between me and Kittia is growing and growing,” said Douglas, 19. “Every single day we work very well together. I love her. Her training plan for me is amazing because we got to sit down and kind of talk. We’re pretty much on the same page every time we talk, and I love it when that happens.”
Douglas hopes to compete for the first time since winning two Olympic gold medals at the London Games – in the all-around and the team event – at the Jesolo Trophy on March 28-29 in Italy.
Her long-range goal is lofty: Try to become the first woman to win consecutive Olympic all-around titles since Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The last Olympic champion to repeat as a medalist in the all-around was Romania’s Nadia Comaneci, who followed up her gold-medal winning performance in 1976 by tying for silver with Germany’s Maxi Gnauck at the 1980 Games in Moscow.
Of the three previous U.S. women to win the Olympic all-around gold medal – Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson, and Nastia Liukin – none have made a return trip to the Olympics.
For certain, Douglas’s presence in Westerville, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, has been a boost for all.
On a recent Wednesday, as Douglas was encouraged while training on uneven bars by fellow U.S. national team member and Buckeye Gymnastics product Nia Dennis, more than a dozen pint-sized gymnasts more than half their age were practicing dance exercises nearby.
On the other side of the gym, a gallery of parents kept watch of both training groups. It was quite a scene, but it was also a quiet scene. A respectful one, too: Everyone adheres to a club policy posted on a small sign near the entrance: No photography permitted.
“Even though they’re on the other side of the gym, they all feel like they’re part of one big team,” said Melanie Deis, who’s the mother of 8-year-old gymnast Grace Deis. “I’m still in awe that Gabby came here, and it’s so great that Gabby and Nia have each other. I could sit here and watch them all day.”
Douglas said she remembers what it felt like to be 8.
“I remember watching Carly Patterson and Nastia (Liukin), and they were doing all these difficult moves and I was, ‘I’m never going to be able to do that,’" Douglas said. “My mom would say, ‘Don’t say that. You’ll be able to do that.’ And I’m like, ‘No. Mom, come on. They’re amazing.’’’
Years later, here she is, ringing that bell, making her own music.