Sunday 22 July 2012

Sunday Surprise

Leaps and bounds

If you had asked me this time last year if I thought Gabby Douglas would be on the USA Olympic team I would have been hard pushed to say yes. Although her gymnastics was good, her consistency most definitely was not. At last year's Visa National Championships she finished 7th all around scoring over 10.000 less than winner Jordyn Wieber. So how did she manage to go from 7th to one of the stars of the team?

In 2010 and that year Gabby began her elite gymnastics career at the CoverGirl Classic and qualified to Junior Nationals where she placed 4th all around, 2nd on beam, 4th on vault and 8th on floor. Later in 2010 Gabby decided to move from Virginia to Iowa to train at Chow's gym, home to 2008 Olympian Shawn Johnson. This was a big move for Gabby as she had to leave her family behind and stay with a host family, all at the age of 14.

In 2011 Gabby turned senior. In her first senior National Championship she struggled over both nights. On Day 1 she started on floor where she fell and stepped completely out of bounds on her second tumbling pass. She never looked to fully recover for the rest of the routine and made a daft mistake by stepping back too far and going out of bounds before her final tumbling pass. Her vault was good but she also had problems on bars, staggering forward wildly on her dismount. By the time she got to beam it seemed that she had simply had enough. She fell from the beam not just once but three times. She scored a mere 11.450 on beam. When combined with her poor 12.950 from floor it was easy to see why she ended Day 1 in 12th place. Day 2 was better generally for Gabby. She started with a good vault and finally managed to show off her bars routine the way it should be. It was beam where the problems lay again though. After completing a near perfect beam routine, she faltered after the first back flip in her dismount, ran out and jumped off the beam. After being told by her coach to get back on, she again faltered after her first back flip. Fortunately it was third time lucky and she dismounted safely and well from the beam. Floor was her last apparatus which she performed cleanly to end on a good note and moved up from 12th to 7th all around. She had done enough however to take the Bronze medal on bars.

After Nationals, Gabby was named to the US National Team and was later named to the 2011 World Championships. In the team final she competed only on bars, posting a good score to help the team win the Gold medal. Although she qualified in 5th all around the two per country rule meant that it was Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman who qualified to the all around final ahead of her. She did qualify to the bars final but she hit her feet on the low bar and missed one of her connections, leaving her down in 5th.

At this point, I was still unsure as to whether Gabby would make it to the team. Although she was rapidly improving, she still seemed to buckle slightly under pressure and surely there could be no greater pressure than the Olympic Games! But at the start of 2012 something happened which showed Gabrielle Douglas in a different light. She was named to exhibition at the American Cup in March 2012. This meant she got to perform her routines and be given the scores, but those scores would not count. What happened was that Gabby had an amazing competition and actually scored higher than Jordyn Wieber, who became the official American Cup Champion. Without the pressure, Gabby was able to perform with ease and shine. I can only imagine how good that must have felt knowing that you had outscored everyone else in the competition, despite not being officially recognised. But I still had my doubts as to whether she would be able to maintain this level of competition when the pressure was back on.

As the 2012 Visa National Championships approached I was curious. With this being the start of the road to the Olympics, would Gabby be able to shine like she did back in March or would she cave under the pressure as she had done previously? Many people were already saying that she was a definite for the Olympic team, but I needed more proof. She performed amazingly on Day 1, scoring well on each piece of apparatus. Although she had a few wobbles on beam she managed to stay on and complete her routine well. She ended Day 1 in joint 1st place with Jordyn Wieber. Would she be able to hold on to that 1st place? We did not have long to wait. She started Day 2 on beam and almost instantly fell. I honestly thought that that was it and she would fall to pieces but fortunately she proved me wrong. She stayed mentally tough and went on to perform the rest of her routines almost flawlessly. Although she could not take the title from Jordyn Wieber she finished in 2nd, a mere 0.200 off the lead. What a difference a year makes!

Next were the Olympic Trials. Another 2 day competition, eight more routines to be performed. She started Day 1 on bars and although she posted a reasonably good score, she faltered in one of her handstands but managed to use sheer strength to bring it under control. The rest of her routines were excellent but she was in 2nd place, 0.300 behind Jordyn Wieber at the end of Day 1. On Day 2 Gabby's first two apparatus, vault and bars were exceptional and she took a 1.350 lead over Jordyn Wieber. Then came the dreaded beam routine. The first few big skills had some major wobbles but she managed to settle down and finish the routine well. By this stage her lead had dropped to just 0.600. Would this be enough to take the win after her floor routine? The answer of course was 'yes'! She performed her floor routine exceptionally and won the Olympic Trials by a mere 0.100 over Jordyn Wieber and earning herself the only automatic spot on the 2012 Olympic Team.

Gabby is now one of three favourites to take the all around title in London this summer, along with team mate Jordyn Wieber and Russia's Viktoria Komova. Gabby has more than exceeded my expectations this year and she has shown that she has improved in so many ways, not just in her gymnastics but also in her mentality and her maturity. Well done Gabby and good luck for London.

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