Gabby Douglas is different.
She's one of the brightest stars on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team and is a legitimate contender for individual all-around gold in London. But just one year ago, that didn’t look possible.
In the 2011 National Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota, Douglas fell off the balance beam a nightmarish three times. Her repeated falters cost her a shot at a title. Overall, she finished in a disappointing seventh place.
Fast forward to this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials, and everyone and their mother believed reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber was the gymnast to beat in red, white and blue. In a shocking upset, Douglas defeated Wieber to secure the lone automatic bid on Team USA. Not only did the victory solidify Douglas’ status as a gold-medal contender, but it completed her unique mental transformation.
Mark Emmert of the Indianapolis Star reported that NBC gymnastics analyst Tim Daggett talked about Douglas’ special journey from a shaky underdog to a steadfast favorite. Daggett said:
Just a year ago, she emotionally kind of broke down at the national championships. When you see that happen, often times they really don’t ever come back from that. It is absolutely amazing. I’ve never seen that level of maturity, in gymnastics and otherwise, in less than a year.
Douglas isn’t just a legend waiting to happen because she has talent. Every single gymnast in the Summer Olympics has talent. It’s her mental strength—the often overlooked attribute in the world of sports—that sets her apart.
Think about it: Jordyn Wieber is a competitor that’s outperformed Douglas countless times.
Wieber has won a whopping seven gold medals in individual all-around competition in events that include the American Cup, World, Pacific Rim and Visa Championships. Douglas’ best individual all-around effort came in the 2012 Visa Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. There, Wieber again forced Douglas to settle for silver.
When the vast majority of athletes repeatedly fail against the same rival, they begin to assume a loss. Douglas didn’t assume a loss at the U.S. Trials. Instead, she saved the best performance of her career for the grandest stage that she’s ever performed on.
Her ability to rise to the occasion makes Douglas a gymnast to watch going into the games. But she won’t leave London as just another generic heart-warming story—she’ll leave as a legend.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.