What Gabby Douglas' Olympic All-Around Gold Means for Future of USA Gymnastics

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What Gabby Douglas' Olympic All-Around Gold Means for Future of USA Gymnastics
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

She was born Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas on New Year's Eve, 1995.

Today and forever more, she is simply "Gabby."

And like Mary Lou, Carly and Nastia—her sisters in the sorority of gymnastic transcendence and fellow American winners of the individual Olympic all-around gold—Gabby means something.

But what? What does Gabby signify beyond the scope of her predecessors? Who is Gabby that the other three were not?

Mary Lou (Retton), we know, was the first—a pioneer, a champion, a mold. She was the girl you wanted to be or the girl you wanted to date.

Carly (Patterson) was confirmation—a reminder that Mary Lou's legacy wasn't simply the invention of overzealous journalists. Mary Lou had indeed changed the sport's trajectory in this country, and Carly was living proof.

Nastia (Liukin) was power—evidence that American gymnastics was more than just pixies and pluck.

So, who is Gabby?

Gabby is permanence. Gabby's victory is the "we're gonna be here for a while, so get used it" moment for women's gymnastics in America.

Nastia had shades of that sentiment, but not to this extent.

Nastia was a fixture—an accomplished athlete at the junior and senior levels before she ever hit Beijing. Gymnastics fans could see Nastia coming.

But Gabby? Where the heck did Gabby come from?

Five months ago, Gabby was little more than a pinprick on the periphery of Jordyn Wieber's Queendom. No one—not even National Team Director Marta Karolyi—believed she was anything more than a mercurial talent destined for a bit role.

Today, she's dancing the Dougie in our living rooms and fronting our cereal boxes.

American gymnasts aren't supposed to appear out of thin air like that. They don't emerge from an amalgam of loose threads to become the best athlete on the world's best gymnastics team.

If an American has the raw potential to become an Olympic champion, we're supposed to saddle her with expectations years before she matures.

But not Gabby.

I missed her. Marta missed her. We all missed her—at least to varying degrees.

And why did we miss her? Because America has more gymnastics talent than it can track these days.

Team USA has so many elite athletes that someone as potential-laden as Gabby Douglas can fly under the radar. That couldn't have happened twenty years ago, but it can today.

There is no miracle in what Gabby accomplished—we've seen our share of all-around champs in this country.

The miracle is that we never saw her coming.

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