Fall from grace: Gabby Douglas goes from London darling to Rio villain

By Jai Bednall of News.com.au

Gabby Douglas has suffered a brutal fall from grace. Photo / Getty Images.
Gabby Douglas has suffered a brutal fall from grace. Photo / Getty Images.

Gymnast Gabby Douglas was one of America's stars at the London Olympics, becoming the first African-American woman in history to win the individual all-around gold medal.

She featured on the cover of Time magazine and a special edition Kellogg's Corn Flakes box, was interviewed by Oprah, led the pledge of allegiance at the Democratic National Convention, released a best-selling autobiography and performed on stage at the MTV Music Awards alongside Nicki Minaj and Alicia Keys.

America loved the 16-year-old with the beaming smile and insane athleticism and soon after there was a film, The Gabby Douglas Story, and a reality TV show, Douglas Family Gold.

But fast forward four years to Rio and Douglas - now replaced as the star of the American team by the incomparable Simone Biles - has brutally experienced the other side of fame.

It began on the opening day of competition in the women's artistic gymnastics where all competitors compete to qualify their country for the team's final, but also hope their personal scores are high enough to secure a berth in the individual final.

Despite producing the third-highest points total of any gymnast in Rio, Douglas missed out on a place in the individual final because only two athletes from each country are able to progress and the two who finished above her - Biles and Aly Raisman - were both Americans.

Missing out on the opportunity to defend her London crown was a tough pill to swallow, but Douglas left her seat to embrace Raisman after she nailed her dismount on the beam. Not that America noticed.

Two days later, Douglas joined Biles, Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian in the team's final and the US dominated. They finished eight points clear of silver medallist Russia - a remarkable margin given just four points separated second place from eighth.
But all anyone in the dark recesses of social media wanted to talk about afterwards was the fact that Douglas was the only team member not to place her hand on her heart as the American national anthem was played at the medal ceremony.

The assumption was that she was still bitter about missing out on individual glory, and suddenly "Crabby Gabby" was trending. Douglas heard the criticism and tried to explain.
"In response to a few tweets I saw tonight, I always stand at attention out of respect for our country whenever the national anthem is played. I never meant any disrespect and apologise if I offended anyone. I'm so overwhelmed at what our team accomplished today and overjoyed that we were able to bring home another gold for our country!" Douglas tweeted.


But with a new hero to celebrate in Biles, America wasn't listening. It wanted a villain.

Two days later, as Biles took gold in the individual all-around ahead of Raisman in silver, Douglas was again targeted for not standing alongside Hernandez and Kocian to cheer on her teammates. The venom continued online - and it became ugly.

"She's had to deal with people criticising her hair, or people accusing her of bleaching her skin. They said she had breast enhancements, they said she wasn't smiling enough, she's unpatriotic. Then it went to not supporting your teammates. Now you're "Crabby Gabby"," Douglas's mother Natalie Hawkins told Reuters. "You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?"

Again Douglas tried to explain. "I apologise if what may have ... seemed to be me really mad in the stands. I wasn't," she said. "I was supporting Aly and I will always support them and respect them and everything that they do. So I never want anyone to take it as I was jealous, or I wanted attention. Never.

"I support them, and I'm sorry that I wasn't showing it, and I should have. But for me, it's just like - it's been a lot. And I've been through a lot. But I still love them. I still love the people who love me, still love them who hate me, and I'm just going to stand on that."

The pain of her unexpected public lashing appeared to finally break Douglas as competitions for medals in each of gymnastics' six disciplines were fought over in the past three days.

She finished seventh behind Biles in the balance beam, ninth on the floor and a shock seventh again in her strong suit, the uneven bars. Afterwards she tried to make sense of how she'd gone from golden goose to ugly duckling.

"I mean, you do it (compete at the Olympics) for your country, and you do it for yourself, and you do it for other people ... and I step back and I'm like: wait, what did I do to disrespect the people? How have I offended them? What have I done? When I stand back I'm like: what? I was standing in respect for USA. I'm coming out there representing them to the best of my abilities, so how would I be in disrespect?" Douglas said. "I don't get that part. Sorry."

Despite the negativity, the 20-year-old doesn't regret her Olympic return. "For me, when you go through a lot, and you have so many difficulties and people against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character. Are you going to stand, or are you going to crumble? In the face of everything, still stand. I have no regrets coming back for a second Olympics. It's been an amazing experience."

But the bullying won't be easy to forget. "Gabrielle's had her heart broken," Hawkins said.

-News.com.au

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