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.