RIO DE JANEIRO – If there was any doubt Gabby Douglas was hurting, that the Olympics had become far more painful than she’d ever imagined after her decision to return for an encore, it was all erased not long after she finished seventh in the uneven bars on Sunday.
For nearly 10 minutes after the likely final event of her career, the 20-year-old American, who had such a thrill ride four years ago in London, spoke with reporters about the emotional roller coaster here. As if failing to qualify for the individual all-around finals after winning in groundbreaking fashion in 2012 and earning just the team gold weren’t enough, she was criticized at every turn in the social media spectrum so often devoid of humanity.
They said she was unpatriotic on Wednesday, when Douglas was the only member of the Final Five who didn’t place her hand on her heart during the national anthem after they won gold. They said she was bitter on Thursday, when Simone Biles won the individual all-around, Aly Raisman won silver and Douglas – who was clapping – didn’t stand and cheer like her teammates Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian.
Douglas, who finished third in qualifying, had only missed the finals because of a rule forbidding one country from sending three gymnasts to the all-around final (Raisman finished second).
They again made fun of her hair as they did in 2012 – the type of thing that comes with racial implications and stings so much more when you’re a minority in a mostly white sport. They made fun of her smile (or perceived lack thereof). And despite all those people telling her to stay off her phone, it’s quite clear she heard it all.
“I apologize if what may have … seemed to be me really mad in the stands (on Thursday). I wasn’t,” said Douglas, who also felt compelled to apologize for the flag issue. “I was supporting Aly (who had just lost out on the gold), and I always will support them and respect them and everything that they do. So I never want anyone to take it as I was jealous, or I wanted attention. Never.
“I support them, and I’m sorry that I wasn’t showing it, and I should have. But for me, it’s just like – it’s been a lot. And I’ve been through a lot. But I still love them. I still love the people who love me, still love them who hate me, and I’m just going to stand on that.”
If this is it for Douglas, and it likely is, what a sad way for her to go.
In the 15 minutes after she spoke with reporters, Douglas appeared to jump right back into the social media world that put such a stain on her goodbye tour. Sporting a “USA” backpack, a red jacket, blue pants and red, white and blue shoes, Douglas pulled her iPhone out and began to swipe. And scroll. And swipe. And swipe again. She would put the phone away for a few moments, standing there in silent thought with a heavy look upon her face, then bring it back out again.
All the while, with people coming and going inside the Olympic Stadium as the day came to a close, Douglas was mostly alone. A member of the team’s staff stopped by quickly to rub her shoulder. A fellow gymnast came by to console her and offer a hug. Eventually, after she walked away from the barricade that had been supporting her and kneeled in a corner next to a fire hydrant, she grabbed a tissue and began dabbing her eyes and wiping her nose.
Douglas swears she has no regrets about coming back to the Olympics, that the work it took to get here was worth it even in spite of the ugliness on the periphery.
“Not really,” she said when asked if she had second-guessed her decision to return. “For me, when you go through a lot, and you have so many difficulties and people against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character. Are you going to stand, or are you going to crumble? In the face of everything, still stand. I have no regrets coming back for a second Olympics. It’s been an amazing experience.”