NEWARK, N.J. — Just like four years ago, Gabby Douglas posted the highest all-around score at the American Cup. There was just one significant difference on Saturday.
“My scores counted!” Douglas said.
The Olympic all-around champion led wire to wire to win in her first meet of the Olympic year, her first all-around title since she the London 2012 Games.
In between, Douglas took 2 1/2 years off from meets, returning last March and competing four times in 2015 with a best all-around finish of second place.
On Saturday, Douglas, hoping this summer to become the first Olympic all-around gold medalist to compete in the following Games since Nadia Comaneci in 1980, made no major errors over four routines.
She totaled 60.165 points in a sparkling fuchsia and silver leotard, beating 2015 World Championships teammate Maggie Nichols by .466 at the Prudential Center. The packed crowd roared with every clean landing and high-flying flip at the biggest annual international meet in the U.S.
“I’m so thankful to have that clicking mode, when the cameras are there and when it counts,” Douglas said. “I kind of have that, switch it on, switch it off.”
The field did not include Simone Biles, the three-time reigning World all-around champion and Rio Olympic all-around super favorite expected to make her 2016 debut later this month.
Douglas broke through at this meet four years ago by posting the highest all-around score, despite being an unofficial competitor outside of the overall standings. She watched as Jordyn Wieber was awarded the trophy at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m not going to lie, I was a little sad,” Douglas recalled Saturday with a humorous pout. “Oh man, I kind of wanted the cup [trophy].”
Would this year’s Douglas have beaten the 2012 American Cup Douglas?
“You cannot speculate on these things because gymnastics is evolving every year and every year expectations are harder,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. “She’s definitely further ahead than last year.”
Douglas did speculate. In some ways, she’s ahead of her 2012 pace.
“The form needs to be there a little bit more, but overall I would have to say it’s kind of better than 2012 [American Cup],” said Douglas, who along with Olympic floor exercise champion Aly Raisman is trying to become the first U.S. woman to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 1996 and 2000. “I feel like my mental game is more there, and I feel more strong and more aggressive.”
Douglas said she’d probably give this first American Cup trophy to her mom to put in a case in their Los Angeles home.
The American Cup winners in 2004 (Carly Patterson) and 2008 (Nastia Liukin) bagged Olympic all-around gold later that year, with Douglas’ top score in 2012 adding to that trend.
That bodes well for Douglas’ hopes to become the first back-to-back Olympic women’s all-around champ since Věra Čáslavská in 1964 and 1968.
She’ll have to surpass Biles, who beat Douglas in all four of Douglas’ meets last year and relegated Douglas to silver by a comfortable 1.083 points at the World Championships on Oct. 29.
Also Saturday, American Donnell Whittenburg led the men’s competition going into the final rotation, when he fell on high bar and was passed by Japan’s Ryohei Kato for the title by .366.
Sam Mikulak, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, finished fourth on Saturday, falling off pommel horse and high bar and putting one hand down on his final floor exercise pass.
Mikulak is coming back from a partially torn left Achilles suffered in early October, which knocked him out of the World Championships.
The next notable meet is the Jesolo Trophy in Italy in two weeks, which could feature Biles and Raisman in their 2016 competition debuts.
The P&G Championships and Olympic trials are in June and July, after which the five-man and five-woman U.S. Olympic teams will be named.
“There’s more work to be done,” Douglas said. “I’m not going to let up.”