RIO 2016

From Iowa to Rio: Gabby Douglas' legacy is on the line

Andrew Logue

Gabby Douglas will arrive in Rio de Janeiro with her legacy in a little bit of limbo.

Her status as an Olympic gymnastics champion is secure, but her place on the 2016 edition of Team USA was up in the air.

Gabby Douglas trained under coach Liang Chow in West Des Moines between 2011 and 2013, and for a few months in 2014. She's worked with two other coaches since, and struggled in the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials, back in July. She became the first African-American to win an individual all-around title at the 2012 Olympics.

Douglas scored lower than three other hopefuls at the Olympic Trials in San Jose, Calif., but was still one of five gymnast named to the squad by a selection committee.

“I’m just really grateful and honored to be in this position,” Douglas told reporters. “And for (coach) Marta (Karolyi) to believe in me and trust in me — it really means a lot.”

The storylines were more uplifting four years ago, when Douglas became the first African-American to win an individual all-around title at the 2012 Olympics.

Her odyssey began in 2010, when Douglas left her home in Virginia to train under coach Liang Chow in West Des Moines.

“In 2011, we could see the improvement, but inconsistency was a problem,” Chow recalled. “We put in much more effort to upgrade, and also training for the preciseness.”

Douglas, then 15, was the youngest performer at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, helping the U.S. team win gold but failing to place among the top three individually.

Chow and his wife, Liwen Zhuang, intensified the workouts and helped Douglas peak for the London Games.

“Li and I were really focusing on the targets, using that momentum to go better and better,” Chow said. “You know, I think it was a good turnout.”

Gabby Douglas performs her floor exercise routine in the women's gymnastics' U.S. Olympic team trials Sunday, July 10, 2016, at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

Douglas competed in all four disciplines (vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise), eventually winning individual and team gold medals.

Suddenly, she was among the most recognizable sports figures in the world.

An estimated 29 million Americans watched the gymnastics competition on NBC, and Douglas’ success was celebrated with an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History.

Then, things changed.

Douglas left Chow in 2013 to join her family in Los Angeles, returning to West Des Moines in 2014.

Others in the 'Iowa to Rio' series:

Less than three months later, Douglas departed again. She eventually found a new coach and settled in Ohio.

In a 2014 article for ESPNW, Douglas’ agent, Lowell Taub said, “the business terms under which Chow wanted to work with Gabby moving forward toward Rio were not business terms Gabby felt were in her best interest.”

Chow told the Register at the time he would miss Douglas and wanted her next chapter to be a successful one.

Douglas changed coaches again shortly before the Olympic Trials in July.

Gabby Douglas (left), Laurie Hernandez (center), and Simone Biles (right) hug after the women's gymnastics U.S. Olympic team trials at SAP Center.

What followed was a disappointing performance in San Jose, including twice falling off the balance beam.

Douglas finished seventh in the all-around.

“She was a little bit off in her training, and I don’t know exactly the reason, maybe the coaching situation,” Karolyi told the New York Times. “But I’m pretty confident that all of these things will go in a good direction and we can work it out.”

Even if that happens, Douglas will likely be in a supporting role for Team USA, which features three-time world champion Simone Biles.

“Simone is competing in her own world,” Chow said. “She doesn’t have to peak to win. She’s in excellent shape, and she’s not going to be winning by a little bit.”

Douglas finished second to Biles at last year’s World Championships, but matching that result in Rio seems out of reach.

Her triumph in London was unforgettable. But how will people remember Douglas’ appearance in the Rio Games?

“Just put me to work,” Douglas told the Times. “I can do this. I’m not going to let myself go out like this, for it all to end like this.”