“I’m going to do whatever I can to get out the alley, and I’m gonna eat that last piece of chicken,” she says. “No one’s getting in my way. No one’s getting my chicken.”
When Douglas landed in Spokane, Wash., last February, she could smell the chicken. One of the top performers entering the U.S. Olympic boxing trials, she’d spent the previous three years working specifically for that moment. She stopped attending classes at Prince George’s Community College and uprooted her chaotic life from the District to Baltimore so she could focus on training. Women’s boxing was making its Olympic debut at the 2012 Games, and Douglas wanted to be a part of it.
“I gave up everything to be the one who would represent the USA,” she said.
As a 112-pound flyweight, Douglas was seeded second in the tournament, one of the favorites to earn a spot on Team USA. She laced up her gloves for six fights in six days. And on the sixth day, after three rounds, the judges said she lost in a lopsided decision to a young Houston woman named Marlen Esparza.
Douglas fought back tears, feeling like boxing had betrayed her.
“I’d never seen her like that,” said Calvin Ford, Douglas’s coach. “You really can’t say nothing to make her feel better.”
Douglas had reached the crossroads, the one faced by every gold medalist, Olympian and Olympic hopeful: Stick with the sport for four more years and take aim at the next Games? Or move on and find a new career?
Few get the call
There are 530 athletes who will represent the United States at the Summer Games in London, which begin July 27. But there are far more who tried and failed, who spent years working and training and are now scrambling and regrouping. In swimming alone, 1,829 athletes competed in the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha; just 49 of them will go to London.
The rest join the large field of athletes who face the inevitable question: What’s next?
Decathlete Bryan Clay was less than an hour removed from one of the most disappointing meets of his life. Clay won silver at the 2004 Games and gold four years later in Beijing. But after stumbling at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials last month in Eugene, Ore., Clay, 32, knew he wouldn’t be competing in London, likely his final shot.
What’s next? a reporter asked.
“The next move is to just get refocused,” Clay said.
Years earlier, growing up in Hawaii, Clay was given a failing grade in P.E. by a sixth-grade teacher. Clay’s athletic skills were already apparent, but that wasn’t the point.
“He was trying to teach me I couldn’t rely on athletics alone,” Clay said. “It’s something I’ve never forgotten.”
The U.S. Olympic Committee tries to make sure all the athletes under its banner realize that a second career awaits. Keith Bryant, the director of the USOC’s communications division, said athletes have seemed more cognizant in recent years of their future beyond sports.