Eight years after the Rio Olympics, gold medalist Gabby Douglas got the finish she deserved

HARTFORD, Conn. – No matter how her comeback ended, Gabby Douglas won.

I left the Rio Olympics with a third gold medal and hating the sport I had always loved. Fans poisoned her, pointing out that the 2012 champion didn’t belong on the team, and in an early sign of the toxicity so common in our country right now, criticizing her behavior during the national anthem.

She looked miserable in what should have been one of her proudest moments and said Friday she was.

“It ended up being tough for me in 2016, so I didn’t want to end on that note,” Douglas said. “No matter the outcome, I wanted to make sure I would end up with love and joy.”

After eight years of largely disappearing from public view, she is getting the ending she deserves. Whether she makes the team for the Paris Olympics or not, she has regained her love for gymnastics.

“It was great to be back out there with the girls and the atmosphere,” she said after the practice session for the US Classic on Saturday. “It was really fun.”

Douglas did not officially retire after Rio. But as the years passed, and the Tokyo Olympics ended without any sign of it, most assumed it was over. She was in her mid-20s, practically a senior citizen in a sport that had always valued youth, and it was difficult to come back after a year or two away, let alone nearly a decade.

As Douglas watched the US Championships in 2022, she felt something she doubted she would ever feel again.

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“I missed gymnastics,” she said.

Within a few months, there were rumors that she was training at WOGA, the gym outside Dallas owned by the parents of 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin. Douglas confirmed this last July, and began posting clips of herself in the gym.

She was supposed to return to competition in the Winter Cup in February but was forced to withdraw two days before the match after contracting the Corona virus. She competed in the American Classic last month in a performance that showed flashes of her promise and plenty of rust.

However, that was good enough to qualify her for three events at the National Championships later this month. She can qualify to do it all with a better performance on Saturday.

“Honestly I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, but I have to give myself a little grace because it was so long,” Douglas said of last month’s competition. “But once I got back out there, it was like getting back into riding. You never lose it. So I’ll take it. I got back in the gym, worked hard and did the numbers.

He appears. She looked impressive on the uneven bars, her signature event, and her Yurchenko double was so big that she could easily add another half-twist and turn it into an amanar. Her floor routine shows potential, and Douglas said she’s excited because it reflects the older, more mature gymnast she is now.

“We didn’t want ‘bouncy jungle.’ We wanted more mystery and very dramatic,” she said.

Also dramatic? Douglas’s journey to reach Hartford.

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Her flight from Dallas was delayed three times due to weather before it was finally canceled late Thursday night. By then, the only flight that could be rebooked hadn’t arrived here until Saturday afternoon, meaning she didn’t have time to get used to the equipment. Not ideal conditions for anyone, let alone someone competing for a podium finish for the first time since 2016. (The American Classic was held in the gym, so the gymnasts competed on floor.)

Douglas said her agent knew someone with a private plane and was willing to help her. I arrived in Hartford at 6 a.m. Friday. Three and a half hours later, she was at the XL Training Center.

“I didn’t panic as much as I should have,” she said. “I was like, ‘You know what?’ You will succeed. “

Douglas is one of three Olympic champions competing this weekend, the first time that has happened. Simone Biles, the winner in Rio, and Sunny Lee, the gold medalist in Tokyo, are also in the classic field.

Douglas, 28, and Biles, 27, are also helping to smash the idea that elite gymnasts’ careers have to end before their 21st birthday.

Biles returned to competition last year after a break after Tokyo and won her sixth world title. Her five World Championship medals gave her 37 World Championship and Olympic Games medals, making her the most decorated gymnast, male or female.

“I’m so grateful to be here,” Douglas said. “It’s a really fun moment, honestly.”

Her ability to say that again means as much as any medal.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on social media @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gabby Douglas, Olympic gymnast champion, is out on her terms

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