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Gabby Douglas returns to competitive gymnastics and qualifies for U.S. Championships

Gabby Douglas returns to competitive gymnastics and qualifies for U.S. Championships

Gabby Douglas’ last gymnastics competition was eight years ago at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where her team clinched the gold medal.

On Saturday, the three-time gold medalist staged a comeback at the American Classic in Katy, Texas, and successfully qualified to compete at the U.S. Championships, putting her on a path to compete at the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

She finished 10th in the all-around, but her scores on the vault and the balance beam qualified Douglas to compete in the two events at the U.S. Championships. To compete in all four events at nationals, which will be held from May 30 to June 2 in Fort Worth, Texas, Douglas will have to file a petition.

Gabby Douglas at the American Classic in Katy, Texas, on Saturday.David J. Phillip / AP

Jade Carey, who is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the floor exercise, won the all-around competition.

While the American Classic has little to no direct impact on Douglas’ chances of making the Paris team, her performance Saturday was a crucial stepping stone and offered a glimpse at her training progress during this comeback.

Douglas started the day on a shaky note on the floor exercise. She put her hands down on her first pass and went out of bounds, scoring an 11.450.

But anyone who may have doubted the legitimacy of Douglas’ comeback should see her on the vault. In the second rotation, Douglas performed an enormous double-twisting Yurchenko, scoring a 14.000 — a score the U.S. women’s team would gladly accept in the final competition in Paris.

She still has a ways to go on the uneven bars, her signature event. The release moves that earned her the nickname “The Flying Squirrel” in 2012 are still high-flying, but Douglas came off the bars twice for an 11.850.

In the fourth and final rotation, Douglas delivered a clutch performance on the balance beam. She scored a 13.350 to secure her berth to the U.S. Championships. At 28, Douglas was the oldest athlete on the competition floor.

Douglas had initially intended to return to competitive gymnastics at the Winter Cup in February, but withdrew days before the competition due to a positive Covid test.

“I was so excited to get back out on the competition floor, but unfortunately, I just tested positive for covid… I’m crushed but I’ll see you guys soon!” Douglas said in an Instagram post at the time.

She first announced her intention to return to the Olympics on “Hallie Jackson NOW” earlier this year.

Douglas’ 2012 performance in London made her the first Black gymnast to win the Olympic all-around gold medal. At the 2016 Olympics, Douglas helped the U.S. women to their second consecutive win in the team event, garnering her a third Olympic gold medal.

Douglas did not make a run for the most recent Olympics in Tokyo, a move many in the gymnastics world interpreted as a de facto retirement announcement.

Reigning Olympic all-around gold medalist Suni Lee is also attempting to return to the Olympics. She competed Saturday on two of the four apparatuses — the balance beam and the vault —marking the first time Lee and Douglas have faced off in senior competition.

Lee has been grappling with kidney issues since early last year, ending both her collegiate career and her 2023 season prematurely. She competed at the 2023 U.S. Championships, but withdrew from consideration for the World Championships team.

Saturday’s performance offered some redemption for the breakout star of the Tokyo Olympics. Lee had a disappointing performance at her first meet of the season, the Winter Cup, where she fell twice on the uneven bars and once on the balance beam.

The routines she showcased Saturday were notably cleaner, although they may have lacked the full difficulty she is capable of.

In the first rotation, Lee delivered a solid performance on the balance beam, opting to perform a simple layout dismount. The conservative routine paid off and Lee scored a 14.300, winning the event.

Lee also competed on the vault, where she earned a 13.250 with a full-twisting Yurchenko. Her performance in the two events was enough to qualify her for the U.S. Championships, but like Douglas, Lee will need to petition to compete in the all-around.

The next stop on the road to Paris qualification is the Core Hydration Classic, which will be held in Hartford, Connecticut, on May 17 and 18.

If Douglas is named to the U.S. Olympic team, she will be the first American woman since Dominique Dawes to make three Olympic teams. Simone Biles, who was Douglas’ teammate in Rio, is eyeing her third Olympic team as well.

The gymnasts representing the U.S. in Paris will be selected at the Olympic trials this summer, which are slated for the end of June in Minneapolis. The athletes competing at the Olympic trials will be determined four weeks earlier at the U.S. Championships in Fort Worth.

Kaetlyn Liddy

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