|Gabby Douglas attends Kids' Choice Sports awards 2014 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on July 17, 2014 in Los Angeles.
PITTSBURGH -- Gabby Douglas sat Thursday night watching the United States’ best women gymnasts compete for national titles at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
And she hated it.
“I love being here,” she said. “But just being a spectator is really hard because I want to be out there competing.”
The 2012 Olympic all-around champion watched last year’s P&G Gymnastics Championships from the stands, too, but this one was different. Douglas has maintained that she will return and try to defend her title at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, and until a few weeks ago she planned to make that return this month.
“I was ready; I was ready to compete,” she said Friday. “I was probably going to do one event at Classics (earlier this month) and all four here.”
Instead, she watched from a suite high above the podium, with her participation on Day 1 limited to a mid-rotation skit when she gave an unsuspecting young girl help completing pull-ups on the uneven bars.
So what changed?
Just about everything.
July was a tumultuous month that started with the announcement that Douglas was leaving Liang Chow, the coach who guided her to the gold medal in London. It was the second time they parted since the Games — and this time, it was for good. By the end of the month, she found a new home at Buckeye Gymnastics in Columbus, Ohio. So as much as she wanted to compete this week, she decided there simply wasn’t enough time to get acclimated.
“There was a very unfortunate situation that happened, so I had to move gyms and switch coaches,” Douglas said in a 20-minute session with reporters Friday. “I had to get used to them, and they had to king of get used to me. It was going to be a little bit too soon.”
Douglas isn’t elaborating about why she left her Chow except to say “there were things being asked of me that I could not do,” and that they were “things away from the sport.” Her focus now, clearly, is on the future.
Douglas moved into an apartment in Columbus with her grandma, Carolyn Ford. She said she loves her new gym and her new coaches, and her resolve to defend her title in Rio is unwavering.
Her motivation: “More hardware,” she said, displaying the trademark enthusiasm that helped make her one of the biggest stars of the London Games. “I’m going all out. More gold medals, that’s the goal.”
Douglas, who is now planning to return to competition next year, said so far her return has gone relatively smoothly.
For one, she said her time away from the sport, which included a brief move to California, “was good for me.”
“I got to spend time with my family; I did work out a little bit there, but I got to just kind of rest because my body needed that,” she said. “After the Olympics, I really didn’t rest because I was all over the place doing whirlwind tours. So I got to rest a little bit, and then when I left there was no serious training time. I said, ‘This is it. I have to get back into training.’”
Of course, Douglas isn’t the first Olympic women’s gymnast who wanted to come back for another one. Five of the six 2008 Olympians attempted to come back in 2012, and three made them as far as the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, but none made the team.
It’s hard enough for many gymnasts to mentally lock back into the single-minded commitment required to be world class in this sport. There’s also that issue of growing up.
Douglas, now 18, looks older than the bubbly 16-year-old who captured the nation’s attention in 2012, but her still-petite body, she admitted, hasn’t really changed.
“God has blessed me with this amazing body I’ve always had where things just feel light to me and effortless,” she said.
“It wasn’t really difficult for me coming back. You just have to ease yourself into it and take one step at a time and take baby steps until your body can handle it. Then you start pushing yourself and getting harder and harder.”
Douglas, who made her return to national team training camp this year, said she’s already developed routines. Now she’s making them harder. And after rising from unknown to gold medalist in less than a year in 2012, she said she’s better prepared this time around.
“I’m definitely stronger this time around than in London,” she said.
If that’s the case, her comeback will have been worth the wait.
Chrös McDougall has been a reporter and editor for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.