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Olympic Pride

05 Aug 2012

written by Carolyn

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When 16-year-old Gabby Douglas won the U.S. Gymnastics Olympic Trials a couple of months ago, it was obvious that the media narrative about Douglas hadn’t caught up to reality.

Throughout the trials, the NBC commentators, Tim Daggett and Elfi Schlegel, assumed world champion Jordyn Wieber would win the one guaranteed spot on the Olympic team. Douglas was expected to be named to the team, but Wieber was the clear star.

And then a funny thing happened. Douglas beat out Wieber for the guaranteed slot.

Actually, Douglas had flipped the script  even before then, at the 2012 American Cup in New York City. Douglas was named as an alternate to the team and received the highest point total – but she couldn’t actually win, since she was named to the team only as an alternate. At the time, Douglas was quoted in an ESPN article as saying, “I think this is going to push me a little to do this and do it now, at the right time.”

By contrast, Wieber’s coach John Geddert referred to Wieber’s American Cup performance as “subconsciously ‘protective.’” In light of the eventual Olympics results, Geddert’s comments were prescient. In the same ESPN article, Geddert was quoted as follows:

“It was ‘I don’t want to lose this’ rather than ‘I want to win.’ That can get you in trouble … We’ll have to adjust.”

Geddert referred to Wieber’s performance in the American Cup as a “wake-up call.” Unfortunately, Wieber didn’t wake up until after she had already lost the top spot at trials and been eliminated in the Olympics qualifying round from participating in the All-Around.

That Wieber had been bested by Douglas long before the Olympics began didn’t change the narrative. Wieber was expected to right that wrong by winning individual gold in London. She was the expected favorite, the media’s chosen one. Yet, as Douglas consistently scored more points than her teammates on apparatus after apparatus, the announcers were stuck with their tired talking points about Douglas’ inconsistency, her nerves, her lack of focus. They could muster no observation about Douglas and what she was doing, other than to note her brilliant smile.

Fortunately, the judges saw what NBC and other media outlets could not. Two days after Douglas’ dominant performance in Team USA’s gold medal performance was all but ignored by the media, Douglas came back and won individual gold – the first African-American to win the all-around gold medal in gymnastics.

Douglas did exactly as she promised back in March: she did this and did it now, at the right time.


4 Comments on Olympic Pride

  1. Mark Robinson

    Very true, Carolyn. The media just hates it when reality intrudes upon their pre-scripted narrative, feeding our own pre-scripted perceptions and expectations.

    I am more upset, however, about the media’s willingness to create their own convenient-yet-false narrative about Gabby’s family life. Initially, the only mention of Gabby’s father was a reference to him being “not in the picture,” with all of the loaded biases which that phrase implies. Not a single mention of the fact that Timothy Douglas is a Staff Sergeant in the Air National Guard, currently serving in Afghanistan. Indeed, my friend Ray Smaltz, who is a producer for Showtime, made the following observation: http://www.facebook.com/mark.robinson.1694059/posts/299530293479449?notif_t=like

    But as people spoke up about Gabby’s dad, the response from the media was to focus on the fact that “Gabby’s mother, who was forced to raise her family as a single mother, was divorcing Gabby’s dad.” True, but how many happy families have been broken up over three consecutive tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan? (A fact of life, over which American soldiers have no control.) Gabby Douglas is not one more “tragic, fatherless black child” and this article sets the story straight: http://hellobeautiful.com/2531962/gabby-douglas-father-dad/

    And I’m not even going to address the idiocy of the comments about Gabby’s hair…

  2. Carolyn

    I agree with everything you’ve said. I have deliberately chosen not to comment about the comments about Gabby’s hair. Gabby’s own response was the definitive statement on the subject: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/05/gabby-douglas-hair-olympics-2012_n_1743897.html

  3. Akia

    Having been a huge fan of Gabby since last year’s national championships, I’m thrilled for her success, but I also feel like some of the assumptions made here were unfair. Commentators discussed the likelihood of Gabby’s making a contribution to the world team alongside Jordyn Wieber despite her having a less than stellar performance and speculated that she would medal in bars. They also jumped on the possibility of an alternate winning the American Cup and broadcast her floor routine to let the world know what was going on before bringing it up to Jordyn Wieber. Douglas was also linked to the superstition that the American Cup “winner” would go on to Olympic glory. The fight for the one guaranteed spot on the Olympic team was hyped up as a rivalry between Wieber and Douglas. As for comments over her lack of consistency, they’re made because she’s been inconsistent. Also, the first mention I heard of her father was that he was a soldier overseas.


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