US Olympic Gymnastics 2012: Why Did Gabby Douglas' Discovery Take so Long?

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US Olympic Gymnastics 2012: Why Did Gabby Douglas' Discovery Take so Long?
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Gabrielle Douglas recently won the all-around at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials. The 16-year-old has been on fire all season and reached a high point this month. She is London-bound.

No longer a tiny blip on the USA Gymnastics radar, Douglas is looking more like star material to fans and media alike.

So what took so long?

A late bloomer by some elite standards, Douglas began gymnastics at six years old. Prior to that, she bounced and cartwheeled her way around the house on a daily basis. Douglas’ older sister, Arielle, pushed their mother relentlessly until Mom finally gave in and enrolled the youngster in a formal gymnastics class.

For the next eight years, Douglas honed her craft at Gymstrada in Virginia Beach, Va. Within a short period of training close to home she captured the title of 2004 State Champion.

During her time with Gymstrada, Douglas received the core skills needed to advance through the ranks. However, the gym is mainly known for training level 10 gymnasts who move on to represent universities and colleges across the country. Admirable, but elite gymnastics is a different animal, and eventually it was time to move on.

A chance meeting between Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins and Liang Chow, 44, coach of 2008 Olympian Shawn Johnson turned the teen’s fortune. Chow was in Virginia coaching at a camp Douglas attended, and within 15 minutes had taught the girl a new, more difficult vault. 

When Chow left Virginia, it was Hawkins who drove him back to the airport and found the coach impressive. Eventually, one phone call, a host family and many tears later, Douglas was on her way to Iowa.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Douglas rose through the ranks quietly. In her maiden national outing as a junior at the Nastia Liukin Supergirl Cup, she placed fourth all-around, steadily climbing upward from there. Eventually Douglas raised eyebrows for her ability on uneven bars and her star began to shine ever brighter.

It is clear Chow has enabled Douglas to reach her full potential. No doubt Johnson is an excellent mentor to the 16-year-old Virginia girl as well.

Chow is a former multiple-gold medal winning Chinese national team gymnast. He came to the U.S. in 1990, received an English scholarship and began coaching at the University of Iowa. He opened his own gym eight years later.

With his athletic resume and talent for training, Chow eventually caught the eye of USA Gymnastics, becoming one of the few U.S. national coaches. Most notably, he was the head coach of the 2008 silver medal U.S. Olympic team.

Having a coach so strongly entrenched in USA Gymnastics may have helped Douglas get attention from Marta Karolyi, head honcho of the Olympic selection committee for the women's team. Still, the collaboration between Douglas, her family and Chow is what got her where she is today.  

Together, coach and athlete will head to the Olympic Games this summer. A simple ride to the airport inevitably changed the course of American gymnastics this quadrennial and has given one talented and lucky young lady the chance of a lifetime.

Timing is everything in this sport, and this season, time was on Douglas’ side. We can reliably presume Gymstrada laid the vital groundwork by teaching Douglas proper technique. From there, Chow challenged her, taking her gymnastics to a higher level.

The decade of dedication has paid off and today the message is simple: pack your bags, Gabby, London’s calling.

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