Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas discussed her Olympic career, athletic beginnings and deep love for Beyoncé during a discussion at the University of Georgia’s Tate Theatre on Feb. 27.
Invited to UGA by the University Union, Douglas was interviewed by Vicki Michaelis, a sports journalism professor at UGA, who previously noted she has interviewed “more Olympic athletes than [she] can count.”
Douglas talked about her experience as a competitor at the 2012 Olympics. To train, Douglas had to spend around 36 hours a week in the gym. During that time, she would practice her routine ad nauseum.
On the day of the Olympics, she recalled feeling at peace. Her coach wouldn’t let her watch her competitors so that their performances couldn’t make her nervous. After winning, she could only speak to her family for 30 seconds before leaving to prepare for the next day’s competitions.
She also gave her thoughts on the different gymnastics events. Despite her strong performance on vault in the 2012 Olympics, Douglas said it was her least favorite event. However, she enjoyed the variety and creativity offered by the beams, bars and floor events.
“I liked beams, bars and floor,” Douglas said. “They were very different. Like, bars, I loved to make everything just like a song, a beautiful piece of rhythm. And, floor, I like to show my personality. And, beam, I just had to be really still...Vault was weird.”
Douglas also explained how she began as a gymnast and her older sister’s influence. Her older sister was a gymnast and introduced her to the sport, Douglas said. Douglas was 3 years old when she taught herself a one-armed cartwheel.
After her sister broke her wrist in two places, Douglas’ mother was initially resistant to letting Douglas do gymnastics. However, she eventually began when she was six years old and immediately loved the sport.
Douglas’ performance in the 2012 Olympics was historic. She became the first African American gymnast to win the individual all-around, and she expressed pride at the social impact that she’s been able to have on gymnastics and sports.
“I get so many social media posts like, ‘I have watched you. I literally want to be like you one day,’” Douglas said. “And I think the sport of gymnastics has gotten very diverse, which is amazing.”
After her triumph, Douglas’ life was much different. She didn’t have to train as much and admits that she’s now “kind of a couch potato.” She was able to let her mind and body heal and enjoyed biking or swimming. Now a recognizable athlete, Douglas has had her own reality show and has spoken with former President Barack Obama.
“Getting a call from the president, Mr. Obama, was like ‘Wow,’” Douglas said. “I didn’t even know how to speak English...That was definitely a huge honor.”
The tone of the interview was light. Douglas drew laughs from the audience when explaining how she met Beyoncé.
“I went to the all-star weekend, and I see [Beyoncé], and I’m like, ‘OK, I have to go over there,” Douglas said. “So, I finally run over there, and she has body guards surrounding her, and I’m like, ‘Oh, how do I get in there?’ So, I see Jay-Z, and I’m like, ‘Eh, sorry, Jay-Z.’ … I look at her, and she looks at me, and she just pulls me into the circle.”
Freshman accounting major Cassidy Sivils was impressed with how Douglas interacted with the audience.
“It was really inspiring,” Sivils said. “It was really cool to get into the life of an Olympic gold medalist and just hear what she had to say and her advice … I love how she interacted with us and she kept us laughing.”