Olympian Gabby Douglas’ exclusive Teen Vogue interview, where she talks about making history at Summer Olympics 2012 and being the August 2016 cover star.
Author: Elaine Welteroth | Photography: Jason Kibbler | Styling: Celestine Cooney | Makeup: Ozzy Salvatierra | Hair: Tina Outenwww.teenvogue.com
It's August 2016, less than 100 days until the Olympic Games kick off in Rio, and the reigning two-time champion gymnast Gabby Douglas is munching on french fries inside a kosher diner in New York City. She’s been on the national morning-show circuit since 5 a.m., and the superstar can hardly make it through her lunch without being bombarded by fans eager for a photo. She pauses between bites to graciously embrace every single one of her supporters — young and old, of seemingly every race, religion, and socioeconomic status — with a warm hug and that signature megawatt smile.
“I literally never thought I would ever have so many people behind me. It’s so special. I feel like I’m one of theirs, you know?” Gabby, 20, shares. “Sometimes I’m like, why are all those people taking pictures of that wall? And then I realize I am standing in front of it.”
Whether or not you know the difference between a vault and a beam, it’s difficult not to immediately fall in love with Gabby. Aside from her mesmerizing ability to float through the air with the greatest of ease and stick landings flawlessly — a rarefied talent that has earned her the nickname Flying Squirrel — it’s Gabby’s inspiring story and warm, bubbly personality that quickly made her America’s Olympic sweetheart in London back in 2012.
By 16, Gabby accomplished at her first Olympic Games what no American gymnast had ever done before: She won both the coveted individual all-around title and led her team (dubbed the Fierce Five) to a gold medal — and also happens to be the first woman of color in the sport to do so. “It was just insane knowing that I had spent my whole life dreaming about this one specific goal and achieved it,” Gabby recalls. Come Rio, she is determined to make history again, as the first gymnast to successfully defend her all-around gold medal since 1968.
Since being catapulted from underdog to household name, Gabby’s personal brand just keeps getting stronger. The Virginia Beach, Virginia, native has a New York Times bestselling book, her own line of leotards, Gabbymojis, and a new docuseries on Oxygen called Douglas Family Gold. Her smiling face has graced cereal boxes everywhere — a patriotic pinnacle of pride for a long line of America’s most beloved athletes, including basketball demigod Michael Jordan and the Olympic decathlete formerly known as Bruce Jenner — and she even has “Auntie Oprah” on speed dial.
But throughout her meteoric rise, Gabby has overcome unthinkable odds — from starting out homeless and leaving her close-knit family behind at age 14 in pursuit of her Olympic dream to confronting racism along the way. But what might surprise you most about the trailblazer is that she never believed she’d make it big. “It took a long time for me to see my own potential — a long time,” Gabby admits. It wasn’t until just four months before the Olympic trials in 2012 that she realized what she was capable of. “Finally something clicked and I knew I could be one of the best. It was a game changer. Now I’m like, ‘I am going for this. I’m going for it all.’”
In tandem with her triumphant success at the London Games, Internet trolls ridiculed Gabby for everything from her body to her hair. “It was very tough. Sometimes I would be in the bathroom, bawling my eyes out, wanting to quit. I felt like I was all alone. But when I came through it, I felt as if I could overcome anything.”
Gabby’s mother (who doubles as her manager), Natalie Hawkins, reflects: “I remember when everyone was talking about her arms, and she became very self-conscious about how muscular they were. Then Gabrielle saw the elegance with which Serena Williams handled all the negative criticism of her own body. It was liberating for my daughter to see that. She said, ‘I don’t have to apologize to anyone about my body. My body is beautiful.’”
Despite all of her accomplishments, Gabby speaks with the conviction of someone who is just getting started. With her eyes set on reclaiming the Olympic podium’s top spot, the self-confessed perfectionist says, “I guess when you’ve been there, you’re like, ‘Yeah, but can you do it again?’ I love the challenge. I love to push limits. I feel like I haven’t reached my full potential yet.”