London 2012 Olympics: Iowans Rejoice Over The Great Gabby
Iowans all over the state reacted with glee yesterday at Gabby Douglas' gold medal performance.
Iowans all over the state reacted with joy and pride as adopted daughter Gabby Douglas triumphed in the individual all-around women's gymnastics competition, winning gold for herself and her country.
Already a gold medal winner as part of the U.S. women's gymnastics team, Douglas, the 16-year-old with the million-dollar smile, competed Thursday morning in the individual all-around finals at the London 2012 Olympics. Russia's Victoria Komova took the silver.
Douglas, who has lived and trained in West Des Moines for the past two years, made history today as the first African-American Olympic all-around champion in gymnastics.
And Iowans from all over the state, including one former Olympic champion who trained in the same gym, said they couldn't be prouder.
"I feel numb. Hugging screaming crying with the whole Douglas family," wrote former Olympic gold-medalist Shawn Johnson on her Twitter account.
Another Iowan, Isa O'Hara, owner of Green Grounds Cafe in West Des Moines, had a smile that lit up like her favorite pair of gymnasts when she found out the news.
She said she roots for Douglas as a person as much as an athlete.
"Her smile is genuine, just like Shawn Johnson's," O'Hara said. "Both of them seem like good kids. They're obviously competitive – you have to be a certain type of person to be an Olympic hopeful."
O'Hara, a West Des Moines native, had dreams of being an Olympic gymnast until she shot from 5 feet to 5-feet, 6-inches almost overnight. Now, she admits to living vicariously through the gymnasts like Douglas and Johnson, another West Des Moines prodigy of gymnastics coach Liang Chow, whose Chow's Gymnastics and Dance Institute is quickly becoming a destination for Olympic hopefuls.
In West Des Moines' Valley Junction, people could be seen brimming with smiles and bursting with hometown pride.
One of those smiles was on the face of Kim Novotny, who owns Light the Earth stone masonry and gift shop.
Novotny said that despite the fact that Douglas moved from Virginia Beach, people in West Des Moines view her as their own.
"She is like a hometown girl," Novotny said. "She fits right in like an Iowa person. She is such a pleasant little person – someone you really want to stand up and cheer for."
Novotny said the Olympics are bringing West Des Moines welcome notoriety as the home of Chow's Gymnastics, rapidly earning a reputation as a gold medal factory.
"Both of those girls and Chow are representing all of the rest of us in a good, positive way," Novotny said.
To find another fan of Chow, you only have to look as far as West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer.
“That is fantastic. Nobody’s ever won the all-around gold and team gold. I couldn’t be happier for Gabby and especially for Coach Chow, because he’s been here so long and bringing people here.”
At least four other young gymnasts have moved to West Des Moines to train with Chow, Shawn Johnson’s coach four years ago. He’s been in the United States for 22 years and most of them in West Des Moines.
Gaer said community is as important to Chow as the world stage. When his facility was flooded four years ago right before the Beijing Olympics where Johnson competed, the community rallied around him, Gaer said.
Across the state in Cedar Falls, gymnasts found inspiration in Douglas' victory.
"It's awesome. She was phenomenal," said Vicki Reed, the owner of Black Hawk Gymnastics and Cheer in Waterloo.
She said knowing two Olympians came out of an Iowa gym thrills her students.
"It just gives them that extra motivation," she said. "Because it’s from Iowa, it makes it a little bit more real, that anybody could do it."
To the west, Audra Hartwigsen, a mother in Ames with a daughter who is in gymnastics as well, was thrilled to see the results.
"She did awesome," Hartwigsen said. "I think it’s amazing that we have such great gymnastics programs in Iowa!"
Want to watch how Douglas did? NBC, which has exclusive U.S. broadcasting rights for the summer Olympics, will air highlights tonight, beginning at 7 p.m. The competition began at 10:30 a.m., CDST (4:30 p.m. in London) today.