U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas performs on the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women’s individual all-around competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in London.
“You say you want to do it and you dream about it every day, but then when it happens, it’s hard to believe it really has,” she wrote in an ESPN article posted online after her win. “Tonight, when the U.S. flag was raised and the national anthem played, there were so many camera flashes going off I felt like I was at a concert.
“And the crazy thing was, they were all taking pictures of me.”
In a People magazine interview after winning the all-around gold medal, Douglas said the rainy “My mom used to tell me when I was little, ‘When it rains, it’s God’s manifestation, a big day’s waiting to happen.’
Her feat set the Internet ablaze with fellow athletes, actors, musicians, politicians and religious leaders among the well wishers giving her love for becoming the first African American gymnast to win all-around gold.
Fellow gold medal-winning African American Olympian Dominique Dawes couldn’t contain her pride as she talked about watching Douglas, her mother and coach during and after her stellar performance.
“I am so thrilled for Gabby, her mother (Natalie Hawkins), her sisters, her family, her dad and just all the little young girls that are looking at her, being impacted by what she did,” the three-time Olympian said, crying through an interview with Fox Sports. “I am so thrilled now to change my Web site and take down the fact that I was the only African American with a gold medal. And it couldn’t go to a better kid. A better mom. … I’m so touched being in that arena watching history being made.”
The media analyst and motivational speaker, a Silver Spring, Md., native, was the first African American ever on the U.S. national gymnastics team, recognized as “Awesome Dawesome.” At the Atlanta Games in 1996, she won a team gold medal as well as an individual bronze medal in the floor exercises, becoming the first African American to earn an individual medal in women’s gymnastics.
“Keep God in your life,” Dawes said when asked what advice she would give the young athlete before remarking about Douglas’s talent and that she is unique and should revel in her uniqueness.
While praise abounds about Gabby’s performance, many also weighed in on critical commentary about her appearance.
“She’s not just a champion of her block, or her borough, or her county or state. She’s one of the best in the world, as in all of Earth and womankind. At 16. Her hair may not be flawless, but her gravity-defying performances have been doggone close,” wrote Demetria Lucas for Essence’s Web site.
She did not object to the teen’s appearance, noting that “when she receives her accolades in the form of network appearances and magazine covers, I have no doubt that she’ll show and (im)prove with a mane to envy. But right now? There are bigger things to worry about, like how Gabby performs today in the individual competitions, whether her hair meets some arbitrary standards or not.”
Discussion about her coif versus her talents irritated Syracuse finance professor Boyce Watkins.
The young gymnast “is nothing short of an American hero and she’s every bit as beautiful as the little girl who missed gymnastics class last Saturday because she spent the entire day at the salon ‘getting her hurr did.’ Beauty is more than scalp deep, and our kids need to understand this message clearly,” Watkins wrote in a blog post on the Naturally Moi Web site.
Or, as Tomi Obaro wrote for The Root DC, every time she watches the young athlete with “skin as dark as mine, nose as broad — I feel intensely, irrationally proud.”
View Photo Gallery: The world’s top athletes converge on London, bringing their religious beliefs with them. From the demands (and accommodations) of Ramadan, to an American running for the faith, a look at God and the games.