Nothing can spoil the fact that four days ago Douglas was one of the most electrifyingly alive and unselfconscious performers at the Olympics, the first American woman in history to win both team and individual all-around gold medals.
“I made the history books,” she said proudly.
But once Douglas had to worry about her hair, the energy began to leak out of her. The result was a mentally exhausted and quavering performance with a bad fall on the balance beam Tuesday, her final event. She slipped off the beam during a flying split and landed hard on her backside on the narrow apparatus, then clung by a leg hanging upside down. The normally magnetic teenager dully awaited her score, her eyes slightly puffy with fatigue and her mouth uncharacteristically downturned. The judges awarded her a 13.63. Meantime, a fresher and more energetic Raisman collected bronze and then gold in the floor exercise.
“I was kinda tired,” Douglas said afterward. “I put my all into it, but obviously it wasn’t my day to shine.”
Clearly, someone should have shut her down and taken away her electronics. It took just four days to suck all the vibrancy out of Douglas. First, she awoke after the achievement of a lifetime to a ludicrous, racially loaded conversation about the neatness of her coif, started by a bunch of Twitter critics. To be frank, anyone who eyed Douglas’s ponytail was looking for a reason to criticize. Her performances were so entrancing that you could only notice her hair if you dragged your eye there with a malicious purpose. So instead of reveling in her victory, Douglas found herself addressing her coif.
“Yeaahhhhhh, okay, um, I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair?” she said. “I simply gel it back and put it in a bun. I’m like, ‘You got to be kidding me.’ ”
She added: “I just want to say we’re all beautiful inside and out. We’re all champions and winners, and I just say it’s kind of a stupid and a crazy thought to be all about my hair.”
Well done, kid. But the hair discussion was just the beginning. Race in America is a story line that Douglas is part of — but it’s not her whole story. The pat story line of black gymnast breaks the color mold was not only old and too neat, it was especially untruthful. “The last seven [American] gymnastics teams had women of color on them,” pointed out Dominque Dawes, the 1996 gold medalist.