London 2012: Gabby Douglas Is the Flying Squirrel with a Shot at Gold

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London 2012: Gabby Douglas Is the Flying Squirrel with a Shot at Gold
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you watch a YouTube video of star U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas on the uneven bars, she might leave the screen for a minute.

Not because of the most feared reason—that she's chalking off after falling off the bars—but rather because she leaps so high on her release moves that it's nearly impossible for videographers to keep her in the frame.

Her height and leaps are what gave the 16-year-old gymnast her nickname of "The Flying Squirrel," a name that stuck.

"I was like, Why can’t it be Superwoman or something like that?" Douglas said in an interview with Time. "But I like it."

If someone would have talked about Gabby Douglas one year ago, one may have said that she had an outside chance at making the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. It is highly unlikely that anyone dubbed her as a fierce competitor for gold.

Back then, it seemed like Jordyn Wieber was going to be the star behind Team USA in London and would be America’s best bet at the all-around gold.

That mentality shifted quickly.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After upstaging Wieber at the U.S. Secret Classic and beating her in the U.S. Olympic Trials, Douglas has established herself at a top contender for the all-around gold medal.

What happened that transformed Douglas from a young and bubbly gymnast to one of Team USA’s superstars?

Douglas solidified her commitment when she moved away from her family in 2010 to live with a host family in Iowa in order to train with Liang Chow, coach of 2008 Olympian Shawn Johnson.

Since then, she has slowly been developing as a gymnast and getting on the radar as she grew from junior level to senior level. When she made last year's world team, it was only her third international event.

National Team coordinator Marta Karolyi is the person who dubbed Douglas as the "Flying Squirrel" because of the height she gets on bars, an event she has the potential to win Olympic gold in.

Douglas isn't the only athlete with that nickname, as Greco-Roman wrestler and Olympian Ellis Coleman also claims ownership of the name of his signature wrestling move. Coleman actually owns a squirrel which he keeps in a cage in his home in Colorado Springs, Co. 

Douglas, who has a naturally bubbly personality, enjoys being able to wow the crowd with her uneven bars routine.

"I love showing off for the crowd, getting my release so high," Douglas said in an interview with Voice of America. "I can just hear the gasp. They're just like 'Oh.' And I'm just like, 'I'm just going to catch the bar, guys, like calm down, I got this.' Just seeing their reactions it's so awesome."

Douglas made waves last March when she unofficially beat Wieber at the American Cup. Douglas competed as an alternate and ended up beating Wieber, who was named the national champion. Then Wieber beat Douglas at the Visa Championships and Douglas came back and won trials to earn an automatic bid to London.

There are talks about how the duo's rivalry is similar to that of Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson in 2008.

Douglas is an outgoing and bubbly gymnast like Jonhson, while Wieber is fierce and serious like Liukin. Douglas’ body type is like Liukin’s, however, as she is graceful and artistic. Wieber, like Johnson, is short and muscular.

Wieber is known for being very consistent, which is one of people’s biggest concerns about Douglas.

In an interview with the New York Times, Bela Karolyi said Douglas did not have enough experience and wouldn’t stay calm enough to win the all-around gold.

"Jordyn is solid like a rock, and Gabby is a flame, a beautiful flame that can shine and glow but can fade out," Karolyi said in the interview.

It was a fall on the beam that cost Douglas the victory during the Visa Championships, and during trials she had several shaky routines. She has the potential to score high on beam, but has just not been consistent with her beam routines.

Douglas is focused after her trials win, and she wants to prove that the victory was not a fluke.

In an interview with The New York Times, she said her recent victories—official or unofficial—over Wieber have given her hope that the all-around medal could be hers. She said she put the pressure on Wieber to deliver.

"The thing I love is that it makes people worry, it just shakes them up," Douglas said of beating Wieber. "They say: ‘Dang, I am so shocked. I need to upgrade this and that and oh gosh, where did she come from?'"

In the end, it does not really matter where Douglas came from, just that she's here now and she has her sights set on gold.

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