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U.S. gymnastics coach: Gabby Douglas making strides after disappointing trials

Gabby Douglas during the balance beam in the women's gymnastics U.S. Olympic team trials last month in San Jose, Calif. (Robert Hanashiro/Usa Today Sports)

Gabby Douglas, the reigning Olympic women’s gymnastics all-around champion who struggled just to qualify for the Rio Games, has made impressive strides, said team coordinator Martha Karolyi during a conference call Monday.

“I’m pleased,” Karolyi said. “It certainly is a work in progress, and every day we’re doing improvements. I’m pretty confident she will be able to function well.”

According to Karolyi, Douglas went four or five days without a mistake on her balance-beam routine during last week’s mandatory camp for Rio-bound gymnasts. Douglas, 21, fell from the beam on both days of last month’s U.S. Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif., where she finished seventh among 14 gymnasts vying for a spot in Rio.

Nonetheless, she was named to the five-woman Olympic team. Karolyi’s reasoning was two-fold: Douglas has a track record of dramatically raising her performance in the run-up to major competitions, as she did entering the 2012 Olympics in London, where she won all-around gold as a relative unknown; and she’s versatile, able to help the quest for team gold on multiple events.

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Karolyi spoke glowingly Monday of Douglas’s form on the uneven bars, which is the current squad’s weakest event. Regarding the vault, floor exercise and beam, Karolyi said that the goal was for Douglas to become more consistent in the time that remains rather than add more difficult skills to her repertoire, such as the Amanar vault.

“She improved her consistency and her beam execution,” Karolyi said. “Her bars routine looks excellent, with the 6.5 start value [among the higher degrees of difficulty on the apparatus] and very good body lines.”

Douglas emerged as one of the brightest stars of the 2012 Games and, at her mother’s urging, took a hiatus from training to take advantage of the many marketing opportunities that followed. Her return to Olympic form, however, was complicated by multiple coaching changes—including a reshuffling on the eve of U.S. Olympic trials.

Douglas and 22-year-old Aly Raisman, recently voted the team’s captain, are the first American women to make back-to-back Olympic gymnastics teams since 2000.

Karoyli said she had a “tentative” lineup in mind to contend for the team gold but declined to reveal it, explaining that she’ll wait until the last possible moment to see who looks most confident and consistent during podium training in Rio. Led by three-time world champion Simone Biles, the U.S. is heavily favored to defend its 2012 team gold.

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In the team competition, each nation picks three gymnasts to perform on each of four apparatus, and all three scores count. If Douglas performs to her ability, she could be an asset in several events. If her shaky form persists, she’ll likely be tapped for uneven bars only.

But Karolyi has been sufficiently impressed with Douglas’s progress that she hinted she’d compete in all four events during preliminaries — a requirement to vie for the individual all-around gold. But landing one of the country’s two all-around spots will be an enormous challenge, with Biles, 19, who recently won her fourth U.S. championship, and fast-rising Laurie Hernandez, 16, favored to do so.

“Gabby’s preparation is in a very, very good direction,” Karolyi said.