GIVING GLORY TO GOD FOR GOLD: Olympic gymnastics champion Gabrielle Douglas says her faith helps her manage the pressure of competing on a world stage. (Photo: Brian Peterson/ Newscom)
“Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.” These are the first words 16-year-old gymnast Gabrielle Douglas tweeted after she won the all around gold medal at the London Olympics yesterday. On the stadium floor, Douglas also told a reporter that “the glory goes up to Him, and the blessings fall down on me.”
In a first-person ESPN article published after her win, she said she was “in some pain from a tweaked muscle” when she arrived in London and was “feeling a little down,” but her coach Liang Chow advised her to ignore the pain. “He got me refocused, and, of course, he was right. When I got to the competition and all the nerves kicked in, I didn’t feel a thing,” said Douglas.
Just months ago, Douglas’ coaches “didn’t believe that she had the mental tenacity to pull this off,” Jackie MacMullan said in an interview with ESPN, but Douglas told NBC News that she has been dealing with the pressure and gaining confidence by “meditating on scriptures.”
“Tonight, I didn’t think about avoiding mistakes — that’s what gets you into trouble,” Douglas wrote in her ESPN essay. “Instead, I just thought about going out there and representing Team USA, my coaches, my family and myself as best as I could. I just wanted to enjoy the moment.”
It took Douglas and her sisters two years to convince their mother that the then 14 year old should be allowed to move from their home in Virginia Beach to train with Chow in Iowa. In an inspirational video about what it takes to raise an Olympian, Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, said Douglas had been a child who would never leave her side, and during a 2011 family visit, Douglas was so homesick that she asked to come home. Her mother told her, “Life is not easy. You have to fight and just refuse to quit.” Now Hawkins says it was worth the sacrifices to see her daughter achieve her dream.
Douglas is the first African-American to win gold in the all-around competition, a fact that had former Olympian Dominique Dawes in tears as she reported on its significance for Fox Sports. Dawes was part of the 1996 “Magnificient Seven” gymnastics team that won the first U.S. women’s team gold. (This year’s “Fab Five” that included Douglas also took the team gold.) She said her tears were not only for Douglas and her family, but for the historical moment and what it would do to inspire young African Americans. Asked what advice she would give the young champion, Dawes said, “Keep God number one in your life. … Keep him first and foremost and only be guided by him.”
As Douglas manages what some are calling a meteoric rise to prominence, she’ll have to deal not only with accolades but with criticism. Already there has been criticism of the champion’s hair care. Ingrid Banks, Associate Professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Loop-21 that this criticism “has deep historical roots dating back to the late nineteenth century [when] black people equated ‘proper grooming’ standards as a weapon in the fight against segregation.” Banks says the focus on Douglas’ hair “illustrates, in a painful manner, how black people continue to hold on to outdated ideas that are no less problematic today as they were in the past.”
Never mind that, though. Gabby “woke up in London on Thursday morning to the beat of raindrops on the roof, and she knew it was going to be a great day,” Phil Taylor wrote at Sports Illustrated. “‘My mom always told me that rain was God’s manifestation of something really special about to happen,’ she said. She was right, because by the time Douglas, the pint-size, 16-year-old gymnast, closed her eyes and fell asleep Thursday night — if she ever did — she was the Olympic gold medalist in the all-around competition, which will only change the rest of her life.”
Congratulations, Gabby Douglas! You’ve done us all proud.
LET’S GO: First Lady Michelle Obama urged America’s athletes to ‘have fun, breathe a bit, but also win,’ when she visited their training base in east London today. Mrs. Obama is leading the US presidential delegation which includes a ringside seat at tonight’s ceremony. (Photo: Stefan Rousseau/Newscom)
The 2012 London Olympic games begin today with a ceremony that will turn London’s Olympic Stadium into “green and pleasant land” and will include “a wide array of animal,” E-Online reported. The “green and pleasant land” phrase comes from a patriotic hymn that is based on a William Blake poem, in case you’re wondering. But, amidst sounds of popular British music, there will also be “a game of village cricket as well as a giant replica of Glastonbury Tor in southwest England, with spectators filling up a mosh pit to reflect the Glastonbury music festival.” First Lady Michelle Obama and her husband’s presumptive rival Mitt Romney will be in attendance, the Associated Press reported. NBC begins its broadcast at 7:30 p.m. EST.
Why, one may ask, do the honorable games begin with such odd extravaganzas? “The Olympic opening ceremony embraces the elusive elements that keep bringing us back to sports: pageantry and excitement, the beauty of teamwork and perhaps deep down a sense that sports can somehow facilitate a long-sought-after peace and harmony in the world,” The New York Times reported. The games themselves are “a peaceful celebration of our warlike nature,” Times columnist David Brooks’ opined this morning.
Who knew? I just like to watch the runners and the tumblers. Then when I’m out jogging or doing cartwheels in my soon-to-be 48-year-old body, I imagine myself persevering or flexing my way through any number of personal or professional challenges. In other words, I watch to be inspired and to escape the drudgery of daily life.
PHOTO OP: Mrs. Obama met with members of Team USA this morning. Here she poses with the 2012 Women’s Basketball team. (Photo: Jeff Moore/Newscom)
Previously, we highlighted seven Christian Olympians of color who inspire.Then, Charisma featured some we missed. Among them are hurdler Dawn Harper, basketball players Kevin Durant and Tamika Catchings, weightlifter Kendrick Farris (who asked for donations to help him bring his family to the games), and decathlete Bryan Clay, who failed to make the team, but won Gold in 2008.
Clay was interviewed by author Chad Bonham, who has a book out about 18 Olympians of faith. Asked how he manages expectations vs. the reality that his identity isn’t wrapped up in results, Clay said, in part, “Does God care if you win a game or a race or a gold medal? I’m going to venture out and say, no, probably not. But what He does care about are the lessons you’ve learned along the way through the win or the loss. Whether you win or lose, I think God’s number one goal for you is that you bring glory back to Him. If that means you have to lose for God to get the glory, then that’s what’s going to happen.”
That’s a gold-medal lesson, if ever there was one.
If you still can’t get enough of inspiring athletes, Bonham has also published interviews with past Olympians like Dave Johnson (decathlon) and Shannon Miller (gymnastics), and has a preview up of this year’s competitors. The New York Times Magazine took a unique approach in a lengthy profile of White Christian marathoner Ryan Hall. Its story hinged on Hall’s contention that God is his coach. About.com interviewed Christian runner Sonya Richards-Ross, Elev-8 featured Boxer Claressa Shields, and Christianity Today highlighted basketball player Maya Moore.
If you’re interested in the race angle, The Root published a Black Olympian slideshow and The Grio asked if the games will “save East London’s multicultural community.”
Finally, Charisma reported that “Christian organizations will have volunteers on hand in pedestrian corridors and transport hubs to generate conversations with visitors through creative arts and acts of kindness, and to hold chapel services and other events for people attending the Games.”
I was going to conclude by suggesting you grab a bag of chips and put your feet up to watch the opening ceremony tonight, but I suppose I should suggest instead that you go for a brisk walk first, or, if you’re still at work, munch some carrots while you watch from the stair-master later. In any case, happy viewing!