Hugging her mom. Two hours after winning the individual all-around title in women's gymnastics, gold medal around her neck and exhaustion on her face, that was what Gabby Douglas was thinking about. "I saw my mom after the event," she said. "But I didn't get to hug her."
Not too far away, Natalie Hawkins was having the same thought. "I just can't wait to hug her," Hawkins said by phone after leaving the arena to wait for her daughter to finish her media responsibilities. "I almost can't find the words to express how I feel. When the final score went up, I was shocked. There were so many thoughts running through my mind. I was completely and utterly overjoyed that my little girl had accomplished her dreams and made history."
With the win, Douglas became the fourth female American gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title. She is also the third in a row, solidifying the U.S. team's dominance over the sport in the past decade. But Hawkins was referring to greater historical significance. "To be the first African-American to win an all-around title, that's something special," she said. "I think she brings a lot to the sport of gymnastics. And she has truly loved it from the first day. She's never had anything but an intense feeling for this sport. If you had to pick someone to represent the sport, I would pick Gabby."
Before Thursday night's competition, Douglas said her older brother, Jonathan, "told me to put my body on the line." Mom sent her motivational quotes and told her the competition would be won not with her bars routine, but with her mind. "She knew going in a lot of people were expecting big things from her. She understood the importance," Hawkins said of her daughter. "I told her to keep her head together. And she did. I was so proud of her. She competed like a true champion."
Since Douglas first emerged as an Olympic hopeful earlier this year, her story has become as well-known as her nickname, the Flying Squirrel. Two years ago, at 14, she and her mother made the tough decision for Gabby to move away from home to live with a host family in Des Moines, Iowa, and train with coach Liang Chow, coach to 2008 all-around silver medalist Shawn Johnson. It was a difficult decision, one Hawkins questioned many times. But watching a gold medal draped around her daughter's neck as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played in North Greenwich Arena, Hawkins said she knew without a doubt that she made the right call.
"It was the best decision I ever could have made for her gymnastics career," Hawkins said. "It was so hard. But it was right."