Gabby Douglas Inspires her Mom, Wows the Crowd
Gabby Douglas gets all the reassurance she needs when she glances up at Section 118 of Chaifetz Arena.
There, she can lock eyes with her mother, Natalie Hawkins, flash matching smiles and move confidently to the next event at the U.S. national gymnastics championships.
That’s how it played out Friday in the first round for the 16-year-old gymnast, who lives and trains in West Des Moines.
“I saw the look in her eyes before she went on vault, she looked up at me while she was walking to go warm up. I smiled and gave her a thumbs-up. She smiled back at me. And so I said, ‘OK, I have the warm and fuzzys.’ ”
Douglas responded with a 15.350 score on her vault, the most telling result of a night that saw her finish in the top six for all four disciplines.
Hawkins will be back again at 2:30 p.m. Sunday to witness the final round of competition, along with thousands of fans who single out the effervescent Douglas for adulation.
“It fills me with a lot of delight to know that so many people support her,” Hawkins said. “It’s overwhelming at times. I take her out and people rush her and, ‘Can I get your autograph? Can I get your autograph.’ That’s new for us.”
Douglas was happy with her initial scores, but pointed out that she still has room to improve Sunday, and in three weeks at the U.S. Olympic Trials in San Jose, Calif.
“I’m trying to stay calm and just focus on training (Saturday) and competition after.”
Her coach, Liang Chow, expects Sunday’s performances to outstrip those on Friday, in terms of difficulty and results.
“This is the beginning of the competition,” he said. “And I believe that on Day 2, we’re all going to be loosening up a little bit, all of the kids, because they are testing the waters, and then they can be much more aggressive on Day 2. That’s just the normal situation.”
Hawkins, who still lives in Virginia with her other three children, said it was a difficult decision to allow her talented daughter to head to the Midwest two years ago to train with Chow.
But, Hawkins said, weekends like this one prove that the separation has been worthwhile.
“Even when I compare the pictures, I can see the maturity in her facial features, she’s just totally blossomed,” Hawkins said. “And I’ve got to give credit to Chow and Li (Chow’s wife). They provided such a place of healing for her. And she needed that as an athlete. It’s very important that an athlete trust her coach.”
And Douglas has gained a new following in her new “hometown.”
“You guys (Iowans) have embraced her [as much as] my community in Virginia,” Hawkins said. “I told my girlfriend the other day, ‘I’m about to be an Iowa adoptee.’ I’m like, ‘You guys give us so much love.’ You guys are great, corn and all.”