Gabby Douglas' book details her path to gold
Individual all-around gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas, who will turn 17 on Dec. 31, hasn't had much of a break since her triumph. She spent much of this fall touring with her U.S. teammates -- who collectively won gold at the Summer Games -- and is already a veteran on the interview circuit. But a demanding life seems to suit the Virginia Beach, Va., native. Douglas will be going back on tour shortly and plans to return to West Des Moines, Iowa, next spring to resume training with coach Liang Chow -- the first step in her campaign to defend her title at the 2016 Rio Games. Douglas' autobiography, "Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith,'' was released this week and details her path to Olympic success, her family's often difficult journey and her sadness at having a distant relationship with a mostly absent father. She sat down with espnW's Bonnie D. Ford to talk about life after London.
espnW: Why did you decide to commit publicly to competing in Rio so soon? Why not take some time to think about it?
Douglas: Because I want to commit now. If I commit in two years, that's already going to be too late and I won't have time to work on my new skills, so I have to commit as soon as I can so I can make it happen.
espnW: Not a moment's doubt?
Douglas: Not a moment's doubt.
espnW: Did you have a light bulb moment where you knew that's what you wanted?
Douglas: I remember I was doing interviews [after returning home from the Olympics] and they were playing my clips -- and just my smile, and then I run and hug Chow, and I was like, I want to do it again, because it's so much fun competing out there. I don't know what I would do if I retired right now. I mean, I'm 16, so I might as well keep going. Every time they introduce me, they'd show a little clip, and it just makes me want to do it again, it just drives me. I'm kind of having gymnastics withdrawal.
espnW: A lot of us did not know just how tough your family had it in your early years. What does it feel like now to have all this potential to earn money, to know that you might be a little more comfortable and able to help your family be more comfortable?
Douglas: That was always my motivation, to help my family. I'm just so thankful. I want to be that blessing, I want to give back. They've given to me and sacrificed for me.
espnW: You describe times where there wasn't much in the fridge. Can you get your head around the fact that you're more secure financially now?
Douglas: It's very hard to believe. I was dreaming about it for so long, just being on the top. We dream about stuff, but we never really know what it's going to be like.
espnW: When you look back now, how much did that drive you?
Douglas: At one point we were homeless, we lived in a van. My mom and my siblings told me stories. So that always motivated me and drove me to wanting to achieve my dreams.
espnW: You go to some pretty painful, uncomfortable places in the book about your father. Why did you decide to do that?
Douglas: I decided to write about him in the book because when he gets it, hopefully he'll read it, and he'll know how I felt and hopefully we'll build a better and stronger relationship in the future.
espnW: So you have some optimism about that?
Douglas: Every girl hopes to have a father figure. No girl wants a single parent. I would hope for it.
espnW: Did you share that story with other people before you decided to write about it?
Douglas: No. I was in the gym, I was focusing on training, and I put everything that was happening in the house or at home aside. It's too hard to juggle. I wanted to write the book so other people can relate to my story.
espnW: You've kind of left home already. At 16, you're pretty grown up. Do you feel like you're missing anything by not being at home, in school?
Douglas: No. I love traveling the world. I've always wanted to travel and see different cities, different states and countries. It's been really fun. Normal teenage stuff -- I don't even know what normal is. This is my life now. I love it. I got invited to dances, homecoming, so I didn't miss out. I got to experience picking out a dress and shoes and getting my nails done and getting my hair done and all that stuff. Most girls don't get to experience what I've experienced, so I'm enjoying it. Sooner or later I'm going to be old news, and they're going to want someone else's signature. Someone else is going to be on the Wheaties or Corn Flakes box. So I'm just enjoying it.
espnW: A lot of people would say you don't have anything left to prove, but you clearly feel that you do. How much better can you be?
Douglas: I think I can get much fancier with my skills. It's going to be very difficult, because I'm not in Olympic shape right now, but I'm still working out. I'm excited about 2013 and what the rest of the future's going to look like for me. We're working on different skills and upgrading, so it's going to be interesting, but very fun.
espnW: If you could change one thing about your sport, what would it be?
Douglas: Hmmm. One thing. That is a good question. [Long pause.] I would change this. We warm up on vault, bars, beam and floor. We warm up all [at once] and then we compete. I would rather warm up on vault, compete vault. Warm up on bars, compete bars. Go all the way around. I would like that better. It would help so much to save energy.
espnW: It's always a transition to be someone who's known in one sport to being a celebrity and getting recognized on the street. How are you dealing with that? Have you had any good or uncomfortable experiences?
Douglas: No weird experiences. Just funny stories.
espnW: Tell me one.
Douglas: We were in New York. It was me, Aly [Raisman], McKayla [Maroney], my sister and Aly's brother. There was this guy sleeping in a chair and he was just knocked out, and we were sitting next to him. He woke up, and he was just like, "Oh, my goodness, you guys are on the Olympic team, congratulations, can I get a picture with you?" He asked his friend to take a picture, and he was squinting, and he skips over me and Aly and takes a picture of McKayla, my sister and Aly's brother. That made our day. We were laughing so hard.