The 2016 Summer Olympics just got a whole lot more exciting. This week, it was decided that Gabby Douglas, the 20-year-old gymnast who won the individual all-around gold as a member of the U.S. women's gymnastics team in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, will be on the 2016 team. As a gymnast, she's gold, and as Gabby Douglas' Twitter and Instagram accounts indicate, she's also one of those rare sports heroes who is the perfect role model for women and girls around the world.
In the four years since the 2012 London Olympics, Douglas has solidified her status as one of the most celebrated American athletes of our time. Her performance in the Olympics certainly provided a compelling platform for her celebrity: Not only was she the first woman of color of any nation to win the individual all-around gold, but she was the first American to win the all-around and team gold in the same Olympics. That's the stuff of legend. In addition to the official stats, though, is Douglas' charisma, that ineffable quality that elevates a sports star from role model to hero.
Described by The Washington Post in 2012 as "uncommonly self-possessed," Douglas has become a pop culture star in the years since competing in London. Her life story was the subject of The Gabby Douglas Story, a Lifetime film, and Douglas is the star of Douglas Family Gold, an Oxygen reality TV series that premiered in May.
Despite her rising sports stardom, Douglas walks that admirable line between being humble and proud. In response to her cover image in the August 2016 issue of Teen Vogue, Douglas Tweeted her "absolute love" for the cover, and thanked Elaine Welteroth, the editor of Teen Vogue. In the article, Douglas told Welteroth that despite her accomplishments, she's always looking ahead to the next goal. "I love the challenge," she said. "I love to push limits. I feel like I haven’t reached my full potential yet."
This type of extraordinary ambition is reflected at Douglas' Instagram account, which consists primarily of photos of Doulas killing it at gymnastics competitions, or celebrating with her teammates. In this photo showing herself dominating at the 2016 women's gymnastics championships in June, Douglas pairs a champion's smile with a more conversational, modest caption: "that bun tho," she wrote. The photo's commentators included many women thanking Douglas for being a role model for their daughter or granddaughter.
This week, the toy company Mattel announced a Gabby Douglas Barbie, which will be part of their "shero" line that also includes Barbie likenesses of Ava DuVernay and Trisha Yearwood. In response to the announcement, Douglas Tweeted with characteristic personality and verve, encouraging her followers to continue to "break barriers & dream big."
Now that she has officially qualified for the 2016 Olympics team, Douglas certainly has the opportunity to dream big—or, in her case, dream even bigger. Her placement on the team didn't come without struggle. According to The Washington Post, Douglas' performance during the Olympic trials was "shaky," and her placement on the five-person U.S. gymnastics team has been controversial because she placed seventh of 14 contenders.
Selection, which is made by Marta Karolyi, the national coordinator for the USA Gymnastics women's team, isn't based on ranking alone. The decision is based on who Karolyi believes will help the team win gold, according to the Post. Karolyi needed someone who is strong on the uneven bars. Along with Douglas' track record of performing well under pressure, her agility on the bars landed her on the team despite her seventh-place rank.
While Douglas' status as a pop culture star and an inspirational figure didn't figure into Karolyi's calculations, it certainly figures into the general public's excitement to see Douglas on the team. Come August, we'll all be cheering her on.