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Gabby Douglas comes back to competitive gymnastics this month, eyeing the Olympics

Gabby Douglas, seen here during her gold-medal campaign at the London 2012 Olympics, is eyeing a return to the highest levels of gymnastics: this summer's games in Paris.
Streeter Lecka
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Gabby Douglas, seen here during her gold-medal campaign at the London 2012 Olympics, is eyeing a return to the highest levels of gymnastics: this summer's games in Paris.

Twelve years after a stunning Olympic performance where she earned two gold medals, Gabby Douglas is returning to an elite gymnastics event — the next step in a comeback she announced last summer.

Douglas, 28, is set to compete at the Winter Cup competition on Feb. 24. The event in Louisville, Ky., is a qualifier for the 2024 U.S. Gymnastics Championships, ahead of this summer's Olympics in Paris.

"SO happy to get back out on the competition floor and enjoy this sport that i fell in love with as a little girl," Douglas said on her Instagram feed.

"See you in Louisville!" USA Gymnastics replied.

Douglas posted a video of her recent workouts, revealing an athlete who has added muscle to go with the grace and skill that made her a star at age 16, when she became the first African American gymnast to win Olympic gold in the individual all-around at the London games in 2012.

After her rise to stardom with team and all-around gold medals, Douglas told NPR that she wanted to go to one more Olympics, in Rio. She competed alongside Simone Biles at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, where Douglas won her third gold, in the team event. For years afterward, she didn't compete, taking up speaking engagements instead of gymnastics. But she says her competitive fire has been rekindled.

"I didn't want to end this sport how I did in 2016," Douglas said in an interview on NBC News' Hallie Jackson NOW. "I wanted to take a step back and work on my mental state."

Now both Douglas and Biles want to defy the odds and compete in Paris; Biles announced her own comeback last year. For each of them, it would be their third Olympics — a mark that would bring them equal to Dominique Dawes.

Douglas and Biles are part of a generation of exceptional gymnasts whose lives were thrown off-kilter by sexual abuse perpetrated by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Many of them, including Douglas and Biles, have spoken out about the continuing mental health struggles they face.

Those who are now cheering Douglas' comeback include her former teammates, like McKayla Maroney.

"Amen girl. Let's go," Maroney wrote of Douglas' comeback news last summer. "Cheering you on for life."

Former UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field — the legendary "Miss Val," who won national titles and produced Olympic stars — told NPR last year that she was "thrilled" to hear about Douglas returning to the sport.

"You see this in a lot of other sports, but it is unprecedented in gymnastics," Kondos Field said.

"When an athlete is able to step away and heal comprehensively — mentally, emotionally, physically — and then they're excited to come back to the sport, I think it's wonderful."

In updates to her fans, Douglas has said she's enjoying the process of training and working toward her goal. She and Biles face a crowded field of rivals to make the U.S. Olympic team, including reigning Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee and her fellow medalists Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey.

Asked if she would advise Douglas to focus on a single event or vie for a spot in the all-around event, Kondos Field replied, "I would say, 'Let's make an all-around assault, Gabby — let's go for it.'

"Take your chips and go all in, let's see what we've got."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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