HARTFORD, Conn. – Gabby Douglas has landed.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist who spent the next several months following the London 2012 Olympic Games “in the air, flying here and there, making appearances,” moved back to Iowa this spring and returned to the gym May 20.
Her goal is to return to competition at the U.S. championships next year.
“I’m just taking it one step at a time and building my skill set because if I rush it, I don’t want to take a chance that I injure myself,” Douglas said Friday from the 2013 P&G Gymnastics Championships in Hartford, Conn., where she was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame along with her “Fierce Five” teammates who won team gold last summer in London. “So the best way is easing back and being patient.”
Life for the 17-year-old definitely has simplified since moving back to Iowa.
The days of jet setting around the country for promotional appearances have been put on hold; besides training, Douglas is now focusing on smaller victories like finally getting her driving learner’s permit, which she did this summer. She’s also finishing up her junior year of high school through an online program.
“After the Olympics I was running around doing a lot of media appearances,” she said. “Then it shut down. When I went back to the gym, I maybe did a couple appearances, but they came to me, that way it wouldn’t affect my training schedule, which I am very thankful for.”
Fame came to Douglas in a hurry. She came into 2012 barely known outside of hardcore gymnastics circles and by August was an Olympic team and all-around champion — making history as the first black champion as well. Along the way she captivated fans with her bubbly personality and her story of leaving home in Virginia Beach, Va., to live with a host family and train with renowned coach Liang Chow in Des Moines.
After the Games, Douglas became an A-list celebrity, crisscrossing the country with a gymnastics tour, tumbling across the stage at MTV’s Video Music Awards, writing two books and collecting a Teen Choice Award for best female athlete.
But now, she says, “I’m kind of happy to be in the low-key training mode.”
“At P&G Championships, the girls can have their moment to shine,” she said, “and I’m kind of like, bloop, and kind of coming up the ranks.”
FIERCE FIVE STORIES
All five members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic women’s team are in Hartford for the P&G Gymnastics Championships, and all five have different stories.
While Douglas is back in the gym working toward a return at the 2014 U.S. championships, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross are back this year. Ross, the youngest member of the Olympic squad, closed out the first day of competition Thursday with the second best all-around score at 59.750. Maroney is only competing in two events, but she ended Day 1 with the best score on vault (15.500) and the second-best score on the floor exercise (14.850).
The women’s competition wraps up Saturday night with coverage beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Scores from both nights are combined to determine the national champions. (Up-and-comer Simone Biles leads the all-around standings after one day with a score of 60.500.)
Jordyn Wieber, the 2011 world all-around champion, said she is working out again and tentatively is eyeing a 2014 return to elite competition. In the short term, she’s preparing to start her freshman year at UCLA, where she plans to continue training.
“I was going to go there and do (collegiate) gymnastics but then I went pro,” she said. “So I still wanted the chance to go out there and go to that school because it’s a really excellent school.”
Aly Raisman, the 2012 U.S. Olympic team captain who also won Olympic gold on floor exercise and bronze on balance beam, is still considering her options but said she plans to return to the gym in a few weeks.
LIKE A ROCK
On a night when some veterans seemed to be sinking like stones, Olympian Sam Mikulak proved to be as solid as a rock.
The University of Michigan senior-to-be cruised through the first night of men’s competition Friday at the P&G Gymnastics Championships in top form. Afterward, even he seemed surprised to learn he scored 91.650 — nearly three points higher than second-place Jake Dalton.
“Wow, well I like that,” he said. “Nice.”
Mikulak ended the night tied for the best score on high bar (15.600) and with the second best score on pommel horse (15.200) and parallel bars (15.350). The result puts him squarely in the driver’s seat to be one of the six athletes the United States will send to the world championships, which begin Sept. 30 in Antwerp, Belgium.
“Sam Mikulak is a rock right now,” Olympic teammate Jonathan Horton said. “From the 2012 U.S. championships until now he has just been incredible.”
Fellow 2012 Olympian and 2013 AT&T American Cup champion Dalton also had a strong night, ending solidly in second place with an 88.700 all-around score. The only rough spot was the pommel horse — the U.S. men’s longtime weakest event that was particularly troublesome for many gymnasts on Friday. Dalton scored just 12.450 points, which ranked 23rd out of the 27 who competed in the event.
The first night at the P&G Gymnastics Championships proved less memorable for the other two 2012 Olympians — Danell Leyva and John Orozco.
Leyva, the Olympic all-around bronze medalist in London, wrote off his bad night as “a freak thing that literally never happens.” After an average start on the floor exercise, he labored through the pommel horse and later fell during his parallel bars routine and again on the dismount. He finished the night sixth in the all-around, a distant 4.750 points behind Mikulak.
“Sunday will be a lot different,” he said.
Orozco, the defending U.S. champion, continued his comeback from October surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. The rust showed as he fell on his opening event, the pommel horse, but he looked otherwise in control doing mostly watered-down routines on the other events with a brace on his knee. The one highlight was the high bar, where he tied Mikulak for the best score.
“It’s really emotionally draining because I know how hard I worked to get my routines in shape for this competition, and I come here and it’s not my best,” Orozco said. “But I couldn’t really expect that much for myself because I know it was my first meet back and it was a big meet so I knew I was going to be nervous.”
The men’s competition wraps up on Sunday with coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET on NBC.
Horton was the only member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic men’s team not competing Friday night, but he promises he will be soon.
Horton, 27, underwent reconstructive shoulder surgery after the post-Olympic tour to repair a longstanding issue. He’s ahead of schedule, he said, and considered competing in one or two events this weekend, but ultimately decided to play it safe. Instead he spent Friday night watching the competition from the press area and making a cameo with the T-shirt gun.
“I’m sitting here like shaking in my seat because I can’t stand not competing,” said Horton, who also competed in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, winning a high bar silver medal and team bronze medal. “I love what I do. I’m not even close to being ready to retire.”
The ultimate goal, he said, is going out with a team gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
“I feel like I can continue to be the leader of this team, continue to be one of the best guys, and hopefully, we can win some world championships and Olympic Games,” he said.
Not in attendance, however, was Horton’s wife Haley and their 8-week-old son David.