Roughly a month from the start of the 2012 Olympics, Gabby Douglas is a serious contender for a spot on the U.S. women's gymnastics team.
So what exactly makes this 16-year-old tick?
How about a fitting nickname for her high-flying aerial tricks?
Or spending the past two years away from the friends and family she's known for most of her life?
That's just a sampling of what makes her Gabby Douglas. Here are 10 things to know about one of America's potential stars.
Douglas earned this fitting nickname for her airtime, despite her lack of height. It’s most apparent on the uneven bars. But Douglas isn’t really aware of just how high her routines take her.
In an interview with USA Today she said, “I don’t really notice it until people are like, ‘Oh my God, did you see how high you were?’… It doesn’t really feel that way. It never really feels like how it looks.”
Nonetheless she’s proud of the moniker and if she’s able to channel some of that inner flying squirrel she will likely earn one of the final spots on the US roster.
“I like to become the Flying Squirrel. When they say that it makes me happy. Every time I look at squirrels on the branches … I like squirrels, they’re so adventurous.”
As her nickname suggests, Douglas is at her best on the uneven bars where she gets a chance to soar.
With teams only carrying five gymnasts on a roster, coaches can’t afford to use one of those spots on someone who isn’t multidimensional. Martha Karolyi, who coordinates the team, and the coaching staff are paying close attention to the improvements Douglas makes on the other events.
Her coach, Liang Chow, was confident that they could work out the kinks following the U.S. Classic last month.
“The purpose of having this meet is trying to find out what the problems are and we have a little time for fixing it,” Chow told The Des Moines Register.
Keep in mind, Chow was the same coach who helped bring Shawn Johnson to national stardom for the Beijing Games. Douglas is in good hands.
The other side of that coin is, Team USA desperately needs talent on the bars.
Ideally, every country wants all of their roster members to be equally talented in all four events, but that’s rarely the case. Instead Douglas’ forte is a double-edged sword for her.
On one hand, the coaching staff could decide that they want someone with her talent on the bars, even if that means sacrificing a little in the other disciplines. There is a chance that Douglas makes enough of an improvement on the floor, beam and vault that she helps the team rather than hurts.
At the same time, the coaches could decide that they’d rather give a little on the bars to keep the rest of the disciplines as strong as possible.
It’s a risky position for the team and athlete.
Douglas hails from Virginia Beach. But at 14 she decided to move to Des Moines, Iowa to train under Chow, leaving her family behind.
While she still gets homesick, she and her family realized that the move was necessary if Douglas was to reach her dream of competing in the Olympics. The toughest decision of her life has clearly paid off.
Not only is Douglas learning from one of the best, but she's competing every day against some of the best.
And she’s also learned to adjust to life in the Midwest, with not a beach in sight. When she arrived at the airport she was shocked by the cornfields that stretched on forever.
“Where’s the water? Where’s everything?” she told USA Today.
Not that she’s complaining, less than two months away from Olympic glory.
Dominique Dawes at the 30th Annual Salute To Women In Sports Awards
This one seems kind of surprising.
The last African-American woman to don a medal at the Games was Dominique Dawes in 1996. She was also the first.
Dawes was part of the same squad as the far more famous Kerri Strug, whose vault on one ankle is still replayed hundreds of times every four years come summer.
It was that same vault that helped Dawes earn her chance. Strug had to pull out of the finals for the vault, leaving the door open for Dawes. The 19-year-old Maryland native took advantage of the opportunity and won bronze.
Could Douglas become just the second African-American woman to medal in the Olympics? And could she top Dawes’ bronze? We’ll find out.
Douglas knew at a young age that she would be in this position.
When asked at 12 years old by some arena workers if she was going to the Olympics, she simply replied, “Yep.”
Her mother was a little more skeptical at a time—because, how many preteens actually make it to the Olympics?—despite watching her youngest daughter win event after event.
I can't imagine that she's too upset to be proven wrong by her daughter.
With some luck, Douglas will be able to say, “I told you so.”
A new coach and a new address weren’t the only things that Douglas had to adjust to when she arrived in Des Moines.
She grew up the youngest of four in her family. But when she moved in with her host family, the Partons, she was suddenly the big sis. Talk about role reversal.
As Douglas told USA Today, “I was just so confused. It was really hard to take on that role. I was really shy when I first moved in.”
Being the big sister of four young girls is also a shock when you see them run out of the showers in the nude and completely carefree. She remembers the days she used to do that as a small child, but was surprised the first few times when she was on the other end.
It’s a whole new world being the oldest sibling.
To her mother’s chagrin, Douglas got into gymnastics watching her big sister, Arielle, doing flips and cartwheels.
After a week of “lessons” from the elder sibling, she was already doing one-armed cartwheels and splits all over the living room.
As a way to keep her daughter safe, Natalie Douglas stuck her youngest daughter in dance lessons for several months. While big sis pushed to see Douglas in the gym, mom had the final say.
So for several months Douglas learned how to be “graceful,” despite grudgingly putting on the tights and shoes.
She’s much more at home as the Flying Squirrel.
She loves to watch Vampire Diaries on TV.
Her favorite subject is English.
When she’s not competing she’s probably reading…or knitting?
“I do like to crochet. It soothes the body and helps me relax, takes my mind off of things. Me and my sister were crocheting these scarves and these blankets and these hats and these baby booties. We were donating them to people who didn’t have clothes. We felt so good we actually made stuff and just donated it.”
Get the picture?
If living away from home for two years wasn’t enough, then add this to the list.
Timothy Douglas is a reservist in the military and served a six-month tour in Afghanistan. There were times when Douglas would panic and wake up from nightmares.
When the concern grew following one of her nightmares, she’d try and reach her dad through e-mail or on the phone just to make sure he was okay, she told St. Louis Today.
Her father’s reply?
“Don’t let the enemy get to you.”