Gymnast Gabby Douglas shows Olympic-class charm
By GRAHAM DUNBAR,
Updated August 9, 2012
LONDON (AP) Gabby Douglas won two Olympic gold medals, met the Duchess of Cambridge and made Serena Williams a fan.
What a trip.
The 16-year-old Olympic champion in all-around and key part of the United States' team title recounted her London Games during a scene-stealing show Thursday at the IOC's daily news conference.
Her performance at the mic completely charmed Sebastian Coe, the London organizing committee chairman who sat beside her and looked across admiringly with indulgent smiles.
This should all bode well for her upcoming tour of network talk shows.
"Life is going to change for me in a big way," the 4-foot-11 gymnast told a room full of international media. "I heard cameras and camera crews are at the airport waiting for me. And it's going to change in a big way that I'm not going to, you know, be prepared. But I'm so glad to go home and just see my family and my dogs."
Douglas spent Wednesday sightseeing with teammates, driving by Buckingham Palace - though she's already had a brush with royalty. Prince William's wife, the former Kate Middleton, met with the team at the arena Sunday.
"She came up to us and she just congratulated us. We talked to her for a bit of a while," Douglas said. "One of my teammates, Aly Raisman, she said that she loved her fashion.
"So Kate said, well, she loved our leos (leotards), they looked so dynamic on the floor and that she is rooting for us and she was so proud of us. So that was definitely a great experience, to go home and say: 'You know what, I met the Duchess.'"
Douglas said she and Serena Williams, the Olympic tennis champion, are mutual fans, and she relished the idea of other black girls now taking up gymnastics.
"I've always wanted to inspire people. And the thing about the Olympics, this quote you see, 'Inspire a Generation' - so, you know, I could check that off my bucket list," she said, getting laughs from the room.
Douglas, who is from Virginia Beach, Va., was billed as "America's sweetheart" before the London Games.
"It is definitely fitting because everyone says they love my smile, so why not use it on the (gymnastics) floor? For me to come in with that role to play, it was definitely a great experience," she said.
Douglas handled her 20-minute news conference with ease, turning a British reporter's potentially dust-dry question about state funding for athletes into a folksy personal tale.
"I wasn't the richest, you know, girl on the block or, you know, my friends were like, 'Look, I got new Ugg boots' and, 'My mom and dad bought me this car,'" she said. "So, you know, my family and I have struggled kind of over the past years and it was kind of hard at times."
It was difficult to gauge her age until talking about life in the athletes village.
"The swimmers are like, 'OK, when you're done with competition, you guys can come over and sit with us,'" she said. "And we're just like in awe. We're like, 'The swimmers have invited us to the table.' We feel like we're in high school, 'The popularity people invited us to go sit with them.'"
Still, one athlete has eluded her. To date, it's a rare Olympic failure.
"I haven't gotten to meet Usain (Bolt) yet. And we wanted to meet him so bad. I had a feeling we were going to meet him," Douglas said.
Douglas was unstoppable - even picking up a question directed at Coe about star guests for the closing ceremony on Sunday.
"I don't think I'm going to participate because ... I'm a very busy girl now, so I have to leave London a little early," she said, as Coe chuckled along, not daring - or wishing - to interrupt or correct a signature star of his games.
As Douglas herself said of the London Olympics experience: "This is a once in a lifetime journey so you might as well cherish it and take full charge of it."
She certainly did that. And after that final answer, Gabby Douglas had left the building.