Since the gymnastics has been an Olympic sport, only four other black women have competed in the Games. Douglas’ predecessors include: Wendy Hilliard (1978), Betty Okino (1992), Dominique Dawes (1992, 1996, 2000), and Tasha Schwikert (2000). Prior to Gabby’s brilliant performances this week, Dawes had been the most widely recognized and celebrated of any of them. Dominique became the first African-American woman to win an individual medal (Dawes was awarded the bronze in the floor event during the 1996 Atlanta Games) and the first black person of either gender ever to strike gold in team competition.
Given Gabby’s global success, her inspiration is much more broad than just African-American girls. After winning the first gold medal, Douglas attributed the victory to “a lot of hard work, a lot of passion, and a lot of sacrifices and determination,” advice that is valuable and priceless to all of us. Gabrielle, who began training as a gymnast at age six, won the Virginia State Championship for her level at 8 years old and moved to West Des Moines to live with a host family, while training under coach, Liang Chow.
We should not view Gabrielle as some overnight success, more than half of her young life has already been devoted to preparation, vision, and dreams.
Although we’d like for Gabby Douglas to motivate more African-American girls to participate in a sport that history indicates their under-representation, the appeal of Gabby’s story should be more universal for all genders and races.
Dwayne McClary writes about sports for theGrio. Follow him on Twitter at @dmcboxingjudge.