Though she’s nearly 17, Douglas has yet to get her driver’s license because at 4-feet-11 and 94 pounds, her mother worries she’ll be mistaken for a child and pulled over.
No doubt, gymnastics’ celebrated “Flying Squirrel” will have her license, and as many cars as she wants, by the 2016 Olympics. But it’s no certainty that she or any other member of the victorious Fierce Five will be on the squad.
That’s because when it comes to Olympic glory, women’s gymnastics is increasingly a “one-and-done” sport.
And though Douglas says she’s determined to compete at Rio 2016 — “Definitely! I’m too young to retire!” she exulted in a recent telephone interview — and U.S captain Aly Raisman, 18, says she’s considering it, they would be the first American female gymnasts to repeat as Olympians in 16 years if they succeed.
“Without sounding condescending to young women, this is a little girl’s sport,” says John Geddert, head coach of the 2012 U.S. women’s Olympic team. “With their body changes and the wear-and-tear everybody goes through, once they become women, it just becomes very, very difficult.”
It’s not simply that the high-risk stunts demand feather-light, pre-pubescent physiques. They also demand single-minded focus. For many female gymnasts, after sacrificing so much of their adolescence — eschewing summer camps, slumber parties and proms for so many years — it’s difficult to keep sacrificing after their Olympic dream comes true.
That’s partly why, Geddert suspects, no American female gymnast has competed in more than one Olympics since Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow at the Sydney Games in 2000. It was Dawes’ third Olympics and the second for Chow.
“Those kids were just phenomenally gifted — not only physically, but their desire level was just off the charts,” Geddert recalls.
‘There’s no judges here’
The rewards of winning Olympic gold are great.
Douglas is expected to earn $8-12 million in endorsements over the next four years, according to ESPN’s sports-business writer Darren Rovell, with Proctor & Gamble among the first Fortune 500s to sign on. She has also been a popular talk-show guest, performed with Alicia Keys at MTV’s Video Music Awards, graces the cover of Essence magazine and reportedly will appear in upcoming episodes of her favorite TV show, “The Vampire Diaries.”
Meantime, Douglas has crisscrossed the country since September with the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, which comes to Verizon Center on Thursday. It’s the 37th stop on the 40-city tour for Douglas and Raisman, the most decorated of the Fierce Five, who are among the cast of roughly 30 that includes their teammates and 2008 all-around Olympic champion Nastia Liukin.
For the gymnasts involved, the up-tempo show, with its wild choreography and costumes, is a reward for the years of hard work and unrelenting pressure that went into their Olympic triumphs.