For those of us old enough to remember when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, who witnessed the remarkable breakthroughs of the Williams sisters in tennis and Tiger Woods in golf, no matter his racial confusion, the achievement of Gabby Douglas at the 2012 Olympics is still something of incredible proportions.
Just as many of us old-timers never thought we lived to see a Black man in White House, to see a young Black girl mount the podium and receive the all-around gold medal in gymnastics is astonishing.
Gabby’s gold is a first for an African American in this category, though we shouldn’t forget the gold won by Dominique Dawes in the team category in 1996.
Many Black Americans were excited to see Lia Neal win a bronze medal on the relay swim team the other night, even as we were saddened that John Orozco, the gymnast from the Bronx, failed in his team and individual quest.
Douglas’ accomplishment is astounding for a number of reasons, and none more compelling than the speed in which it was done and the obstacles she had to overcome to get there.
There was a time a few months ago when even her coaches felt she wasn’t ready for the pressure of the spotlight on the world stage. But as she told her coaches and teammates, and later the press: “Don’t fear. Believe!” And she wasn’t afraid and she never for a moment doubted that she would succeed.
Gabby’s climb to the top, mastering the difficult Amanar twists and turns on the vault, closing her ears to all the praise and hopes heaped on her rival, Jordyn Wieber, and overcoming the distance from her family and adjusting to the all-white environment of Iowa, are no small hurdles. Clearly, the focus she was said not to possess was grossly exaggerated.
And the nationalists among us can also take heart to hear Gabby proudly proclaim her blackness. “I have an advantage because I’m the underdog and I’m black and no one thinks I’d ever win,” she told reporters. “Well, I’m going to inspire so many people. Everybody will be talking about, how did she come up so fast? But I’m ready to shine.”
How long will the glow last?
Given her inner strength, her overwhelming confidence, there is no reason to doubt that she won’t be back four years from now. By then she will be a ripe twenty with plenty of preparedness, no fear and an abundance of belief.