June 29, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; Gabby Douglas performs on the balance beam during the 2012 USA Gymnastics Olympic Team Trials at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
LONDON - One victory tour is in the books and another may be quickly looming for Gabby Douglas.
The gold medal-winning U.S. women's gymnastics team, still full of energy and national pride, spent Wednesday making national TV appearances and posing for pictures with the likes of basketball star Carmelo Anthony.
For Douglas, who lives and trains in West Des Moines, Iowa, the frivolity must yield to the focus needed for another high-pressure competition. She finally must take off her team gold medal and take the podium in pursuit of the individual all-around title at the London Olympics, the biggest prize in her sport.
Competition begins at 11:30 a.m. ET at North Greenwich Arena.
"I am looking forward to the challenges for the all-around finals and event finals," Douglas's coach, Liang Chow, said after Team USA struck gold Tuesday. "The fun just started."
Opposing Douglas today will be 23 elite gymnasts but not the one who would have been favored to win, U.S. teammate and reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber. Olympic rules say a maximum of two gymnasts from each country can compete for all-around gold, and Aly Raisman, not Wieber, earned the other American spot in Sunday's shocking qualifying round.
So Wieber, clearly one of the top-five gymnasts in the world, won't be in the field of 24 today. She responded to the crushing moment with a strong showing Tuesday for the USA, then tried to put it in perspective.
"I think this was really important, just for a little redemption," Wieber said. "You know, it's definitely a disappointment and the rules sometimes kind of stink. But in the end, we ended up with this team gold medal, and I'm the happiest person right now."
That's not to say that Douglas has an easy path to gold. Raisman, two years older at 18, has been terrific in London, showing the same mental toughness that has been a Wieber hallmark. And Russians Victoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina, not at their best Tuesday en route to a silver medal, have shown that they can put together one great evening of gymnastics. Both have been posting higher scores on the uneven bars - a Douglas strength - than the Americans. And Komova netted the top all-around score of 60.632 in Sunday's qualifications, followed by Raisman, Douglas, Wieber and Mustafina.
Still, when Chow was asked which athletes were most likely to push Douglas, he fell back on a coach's cliché.
"Her strongest competitor for her is herself. I think if she can stay on top of herself, just do her normal routines, she'll be in a really good place," he said.
That certainly seemed to be the case Tuesday. Douglas scored the highest, at 61.465, of the women who competed in all four events, including Mustafina. Chow called it her best overall performance, especially considering the pressure, and it continued an upward arc that she has been on for more than two months.
The key, Douglas said, has been confidence.
"You just have to believe and trust in yourself. You know you're going to do this at the exact moment," she said.
Americans have won all-around gold at the past two Olympics - Carly Patterson in 2004 and Nastia Liukin in 2008 - so it's possible that this could come down to a battle between Douglas and Raisman.
Douglas would have an advantage on the bars, Raisman on the floor. Their vaults have been roughly equal.
So keep an eye on the balance beam, where Douglas has made major strides since nearly falling off during two separate routines in May and June. The centerpiece of her program is a standing full and flip-flop series to double pike, and her scores of 15.266 Sunday and 15.233 Tuesday were the best among Americans and good enough to put her in contention for a gold medal next week in that individual event.
"She's got a very beautiful beam program. She just has to demonstrate it every time," said Chow, whose wife, Liwen Zhuang, serves as Douglas's beam coach.
Four years ago, Liukin outpointed Shawn Johnson for all-around gold in Beijing. This year, Douglas and Wieber were expected to be the last two hand-standing.
The Russians will have some say in things, but John Geddert, the U.S. coach here, is anticipating more glory for the red, white and blue.
"Gabby, what a great day she had today," he said Tuesday. "I'm so fired up for her and Aly on Thursday. Hopefully, they can do some damage."
Mark Emmert, USA TODAY