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EXCLUSIVE
Sports

Gabby Douglas announces return to competitive gymnastics with eye on Paris

The 2012 Olympic all-around champion and three-time Olympic gold medalist intends to compete for the Paris Olympics team this summer.
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Gabby Douglas, who was the first Black gymnast to win the Olympic all-around gold medal when she earned the top prize in London in 2012, is ready to try for another one.

"I'm still a competitor at heart," Douglas said in an interview Tuesday night on "Hallie Jackson NOW." "After watching the 2022 championships, I was like I miss competing. ... I found myself in the gym, and I was like, all right, maybe I could do this again."

She'll return to her first competition in eight years on Feb. 24 at the Winter Cup in Louisville, Kentucky, the first elite gymnastics meet of the year. The event will be her first competition since the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I didn't want to end this sport how I did in 2016. I wanted to take a step back and work on my mental state,” she said. “I love gymnastics and love pushing myself. ... I never wanted to walk away on a bad day."

At 28, she will be the oldest gymnast in the competition at the Winter Cup.

Douglas is training on all four apparatuses but said she is paying "a little more" attention to the uneven bars — her signature event.

Gabby Douglas performs on the balance beam at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Gabby Douglas performs on the balance beam at the Rio Olympics in 2016.Tim Clayton / Corbis via Getty Images file

At the London Games, Douglas was a member of the "Fierce Five," which won gold in the team all-around, the first U.S. women's gymnastics team to do so since the "Magnificent Seven" in 1996. Douglas also clinched the sport's most prestigious achievement, the individual all-around title.

She won a third gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, when the U.S. women's team —?dubbed the "Final Five" —?once again took home gold in the team event.

Douglas never made an official retirement announcement after Rio, but she did not attempt a comeback for the Tokyo Olympics.

If she is named to the 2024 team, Douglas will be the first American woman since Dominique Dawes to make three Olympic teams. Her 2016 teammate Simone Biles is also eyeing her third Olympic team.

The reigning Olympic all-around champion, Sunisa Lee, is also vying for the five-person Paris team, the first time three all-around champions are competing for a spot on the same Olympic team.

“I never wanted to have a hatred for the sport that I love,” Douglas said in an interview on the “Time Person of the Week” podcast in November. “I don’t want to end it that way. I’ve never announced retirement. I always kept in the back of my mind, like, we have to finish on a better note.”

The gymnastics community began to speculate that Douglas would make a run for the Paris Olympics in October 2022, when a photo that appeared to show her training at a new gym gained traction on social media.

Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas teaches Jay Pharoah gymnastics on the IMDb Series “Special Skills” in Los Angeles in 2020.
Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas teaches Jay Pharoah gymnastics on the IMDb series “Special Skills” in Los Angeles in 2020.Rich Polk / Getty Images for IMDb file

The USA Gymnastics website updated Douglas' profile later that year to reflect a gym change to World Olympic Gymnastics Academy, the gym that produced two consecutive Olympic all-around champions — Carly Patterson in 2004 and Nastia Liukin in 2008 — among other Olympians. She will be coached by Liukin's father and former coach, Valeri Liukin, who is an Olympic gold medalist himself.

The switch to the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy is one of several gym changes over Douglas' career. During the 2012 Olympics cycle, she was coached by Liang Chow, the renowned coach of 2008 Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson. The two severed ties after the London Olympics, and Douglas eventually trained under Kittia Carpenter of Buckeye Gymnastics for the 2016 Olympics.

Douglas posted a video of her training on the uneven bars in July with the caption "loading..." She made the uneven bars finals at both of the Olympics she attended and earned the nickname "Flying Squirrel" for her high-flying release skills in the event.

The uneven bars have historically been the U.S. team's weakest event, opening the door for teams with strong bar workers, like Russia and China, to gain momentum. Barring rule changes, the Russian women will not be in Paris this summer because of the ongoing war in Ukraine, but Douglas' abilities on bars alone will make her a strong contender for the team, nonetheless.

Both the women's and the men's Olympic team will be selected at the Olympic Trials this summer, which will be June 27-30 in Minneapolis. The gymnasts competing at the trials will be determined four weeks before then at the U.S. Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.

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