By Jo-Ann Barnas – Special to USA Gymnastics
WESTERVILLE, Ohio – She pads across the floor in bare feet, her hair pulled back, her face devoid of make-up. The fronts of her thighs are covered with thick layers of white chalk.
This is Gabby Douglas in work mode. The reigning Olympic all-around champion is in the second hour of a four-hour morning training session at Buckeye Gymnastics, where a lunch packed by her grandmother sits in a row of cubbies alongside the club’s beginner gymnasts.
As she walks under a pink sign in the corner of the gym, it’s easy to think how the banner represents not only Douglas’ past, but her future, too:
“What can you accomplish today?"
On Wednesday, it included several clean run-throughs on uneven bars and balance beam. When she confidently nailed a back flip with a full twist on beam after a missed first attempt, the stoic expression on Douglas’s face was almost Jordanesque… nothing… but… net.
Then she landed the trick again.
Yes. Douglas is back.
You knew that, but you can really see it now. And hear it, too, in the rhythm of her voice when she says between giggles: “I mean, just coming back here and doing whatever, and not being real serious in my training? That would be the biggest waste of time. Why not go for it 100 percent? I mean, if you don’t go for something 100 percent, then why do it? So when I came back, I really had to put my all into it, and really had to be in (with) serious ground rules and serious training. I mean, I really want to make a come back. I want to make it big and make it better than last time.”
Even in the past two-and-a-half weeks, since returning from the women’s national team training camp at USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, Douglas, 19, is much improved. Of course, there was no place to go but up since she had fallen ill shortly before departing Ohio. She slept in a separate room at the ranch, her coach said.
“It was difficult for me to be there because I wasn’t at my best, I wasn’t 100 percent,” Douglas said. “The camps are so intense, so it was a bit hard for me to keep up when I was under the weather, but I tried my hardest.”
Douglas said her immediate goal is to be named to compete at the City of Jesolo Trophy on March 28-29 in Italy. It will be Douglas’s first competition since winning two golds – in the all-around and team competition as a Fierce Fiver – at the 2012 London Olympics.
She knows she’ll need to prove her readiness to National Team Coordinator Martha Karolyi at the next camp.
Kittia Carpenter, who has been her coach for the last seven months, believes Douglas is on track.
“She expects perfection as Martha does," Carpenter said of Douglas. “We’re right now working on her consistency, making everything confident and clean.”
So for Douglas, at the moment, it’s all about connecting small steps while building confidence along the way. She hopes it will lead to a return trip to the 2016 Olympics in Rio. But that’s next year.
On this chilly day in Ohio, her mission is simple but necessary: Fueling up with a bowl of udon noodles followed by a few more hours of training.
“I can feel each and every day, and each and every week, that I’m getting stronger,” she said.
Return to USA Gymnastics next week for more on Douglas.