Gabby Douglas had been looking forward to this appearance for a long time.
The Olympic all-around champion returned to the gym, going through her first practice since the London Games after meeting with coach Liang Chow to discuss her comeback plan.
“She is very excited to be coming back,” Chow told The Associated Press. “She can't wait any longer.”
Douglas has always said she wanted to continue competing through the Rio Olympics in 2016. She is only 17, and Chow said in London that she hadn't come close to reaching her potential. (The Olympics were only the fifth international event for Douglas.)
But her life has been a whirlwind since London, where she also helped the U.S. win only its second team title. Her Olympic success, dazzling smile and captivating personality turned her into a worldwide celebrity, and she's been going nonstop since the games ended.
She was the AP's female athlete of the year and one of Barbara Walters' “10 Most Fascinating People” in 2012. She was the youngest and only female on Forbes' recent list of 10 most influential athletes in the U.S. She had a guest spot on “The Vampire Diaries,” one of her favorite shows, and she performed at the Video Music Awards after walking the red carpet with the rest of the Fierce Five.
Douglas and fellow Fierce Five members Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney did a 40-city gymnastics tour last fall, and she's made dozens of other celebrity appearances. She signed deals with Nike, Kellogg Co. and AT&T, among others, and recently published her second book.
Gymnastics was never far from her mind, though.
“She loves the sport of gymnastics,” said Douglas' mother, Natalie Hawkins. “She's so excited at the prospect of getting back into sport. We've been out on this incredible journey but that's been the one thing: She's missed gymnastics. Her sole desire and passion was to get back to the sport she loves so much.”
The plan always was to return to training in April or May, Hawkins said, and they've adjusted her schedule accordingly. Hawkins said she has turned down “an incredible amount” of opportunities for Douglas, including an appearance at The Sound of Change Live concert, which is being headlined by Beyonce, on June 1 in London.
“There's no way to be training and be in London at the same time,” Hawkins said.
With Douglas back in the gym, Raisman is the only member of the Fierce Five who isn't in training. Kyla Ross, the only member of the gold-medal team who didn't turn professional, barely took any time off and has already returned to competition. Wieber and Maroney have been back in the gym for a few months now.
Raisman is currently competing on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Chow won't put a timetable on Douglas' return, saying she has to get back in gymnastics shape before they can put a “realistic” training plan together.
“I think 2014 is an excellent possibility for competition,” he said.
But this won't be an easy process, Chow said. Gymnastics is a sport that requires hundreds of hours of repetition to perfect skills, and Douglas has been out of action for nine months.
“I did warn her, `If you think preparing for London was hard, preparing for Rio will be harder.' There's many challenges ahead of us,” Chow said. “Also, `You're going to have to have a lot more patience with yourself. Nine months off, you have to get yourself in very good physical condition first before we even talk about the training plan for the next steps.'”
But Douglas is undeterred.
“She understood,” Chow said, “and she is super excited.”
Even though it could mean another separation from her family.
Douglas will live with her host family, the Partons, until her brother, John, a high school track star, graduates next month and goes to college. Hawkins and her other two daughters may then relocate to Iowa, or Douglas could stay with the Partons and have her family visit.
“We're taking our cues from Gabrielle,” Hawkins said.
“I remember her saying to me once, `I want to push myself to the limit in this sport, I want to see what I'm capable of doing. I want to see how far I can take it,'” Hawkins said. “That's really what I want to see for her, that desire completely fulfilled.”