Gabrielle Douglas may be just 16 years old, but following her performance at London 2012 she is arguably the most famous gymnast in the world.
The Team USA athlete – nicknamed The Flying Squirrel on account of her acrobatic mastery of the uneven bars – wrote herself into the history books when she became the first ever African-American woman to be crowned individual all-round champion.
And, following her electrifying neck-and-neck battle with Russia's Viktoria Komova, she became the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics.
Born in 1995 in Virginia, Gabby Douglas took up gymnastics at the age of six – having perfected her first cartwheel at three-years-old at the prompting of her older sister. Her first championship-winning performance came just two years later when she took her first title at the 2004 Virginia State Championships.
Inspired by American gymnast Carly Patterson, who had herself won a gold and two silvers at Athens in 2004, her first junior elite championship performance came at the 2010 Covergirl classic in Chicago, where she came third on the balance beam, sixth on the vault and ninth all-round. Silver came later that year at the US National Championships.
The young gymnast’s first taste of gold was at the 2010 Pan American Championships, where she won the uneven bars title and a share of Team USA’s first place medal.
Douglas was tipped for glory – and it wasn’t long before she outgrew her Virginia Beach club team. Making the difficult decision to move away from her family, she relocated to Iowa and enlisted coach Chow Liang, who coached former world champion Shawn Johnson to four medals in Beijing and had worked with Douglas at a clinic in her gym.
That decision, though difficult, was to prove wise – and Douglas was soon to get the break that would elevate her to a household name. Six months before London she was ranked just third among Team USA’s Olympic contenders, in the shadow of world champion Jordyn Wieber and team captain Aly Raisman.
But when Wieber failed to qualify for the all-around and Raisman wobbled on the beam, it was Gabrielle who got her chance to see off Russian rivals and give the United States its third straight gold medal – equalling the record established by the Soviet Union from 1952 to 1960.
In London, Douglas and her teammates, nicknamed “The Fierce Five” won team all-round gold at the North Greenwich Arena. And in the individual competition, Douglas rocketed into an early lead on the vault thanks to her near perfect 15.966-scoring amanar. This was followed by strong performances on the vault and the bars, before securing a gold medal with stunning performances on the uneven bars and the floor exercise.
Douglas attracted attention for celebrating winning the most prized honour in gymnastics the next day by eating breakfast at McDonald’s.
Later the new Olympic champion – whose face has graced both the cover of Time magazine and cereal boxes – told the Boston Globe: “My mom told me, you can inspire a nation.”