Gabby Douglas withdraws from national championships, ending bid for Paris Olympics

FORT WORTH, Texas — Gabby Douglas' comeback is over.

The 2012 Olympic champion withdrew from this weekend's national championships Wednesday, ending her hopes of making the U.S. team for this summer's Paris Games after an almost eight-year absence from competition. Douglas told ESPN she'd injured her ankle this week in training. Her agent, Lowell Taub, declined further comment.

"I spoke to her today," said Chellsie Memmel, who is now USA Gymnastics' women's program technical lead but understands Douglas' situation better than most, having attempted her own comeback three years ago, a decade after her last competition.

"We had a really good talk. I was like, 'I know how you're feeling.' When you come back as an older athlete, things feel a lot different in competition," said Memmel, part of the U.S. team that won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympics. "I'm bummed for her, but her body is her top priority and that's smart."

Gabby Douglas looks on prior to the 2024 Core Hydration Classic at XL Center on May 18, 2024 in Hartford, Connecticut.
Gabby Douglas looks on prior to the 2024 Core Hydration Classic at XL Center on May 18, 2024 in Hartford, Connecticut.

The announcement was not a surprise after Douglas' rough outings in her first two competitions since the Rio Olympics. She fell twice on uneven bars, her signature event, at the American Classic on April 27. She looked better in training ahead of the U.S. Classic on May 18, but scratched after one event after again falling twice on bars.

She looked stone-faced as she came off the podium in Hartford, Connecticut, knowing what a steep climb it would be for her. Douglas needed to score a 51 or higher at the U.S. Classic to qualify to do the all-around at the national championships, and her 10.1 on bars would have made that difficult. She had already qualified to do three events at nationals — vault, bars and balance beam — with her performance at the American Classic, but would have had to be near-perfect at nationals just to earn an invite to the Olympic trials next month.

"I honestly didn't do the best that I wanted," Douglas said of the American Classic, which was her first competition since the Rio Olympics in 2016. "But I have to give myself a little grace because it's been so long."

Douglas is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, winning team golds in 2012 and 2016 in addition to her all-around title in London. She left the sport after Rio and said at the U.S. Classic she was "hating" gymnastics at the time. The first Black woman to win the Olympic all-around title, she was subjected to relentless criticism by fans in both 2012 and 2016. She was ridiculed for her hair and chastised for her demeanor during the national anthem, and there are still some fans who say, wrongly, that Douglas didn't belong on the Rio team.

Douglas had the third-highest score in qualifying in Rio, behind Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, but didn't make the all-around final because of the two-per-country limit. She had the second-highest score for the United States on uneven bars in both qualifying and team finals, and that event effectively ended any hope Russia had of catching the Americans.

"It ended rough for me in 2016," Douglas said.

Gabby Douglas was part of the U.S. team that won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Gabby Douglas was part of the U.S. team that won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Though she didn't officially retire, most assumed Douglas was done with the sport. But as she watched the national championships in 2022, she realized she missed gymnastics and wanted to end her career on her terms. Within a few months, there were rumors she was training at WOGA, the gym outside Dallas that’s owned by the parents of 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin. Douglas confirmed it last July and began posting clips of herself in the gym.

"Regardless of the outcome, I want to make sure I end on love and joy instead of hating something that I love," Douglas said.

Asked if she now felt that, Douglas responded, "I do! Yes, I do."

But while she had a love for gymnastics again, Douglas simply didn't have enough time. Doing routines in a competition is different than doing them during training, and two meets wasn't going to be enough for Douglas after so much time away.

"I love this sport and I love pushing my limits," Douglas told ESPN. "I hope I can inspire both my peers and the next generation of gymnasts that age is just a number, and you can accomplish anything you work hard for."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gabby Douglas ends 2024 Paris Olympics bid after gymnastics comeback