Gabby Douglas returns to gymnastics training, coach confirms


Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around champion, returned to training at a gymnastics center, six years after her last meet, but she has not announced a competitive comeback.

Gymnastics coach Valeri Liukin said Friday that Douglas has been working very hard at his family’s World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) in Texas, confirming previous reports that did not name sources from last autumn.

Liukin was speaking to NBC Sports’ John Roethlisberger at the Winter Cup in Louisville. The next major meet is the U.S. Championships in August.

Douglas has not made any public statements about training or her gymnastics career.

A representative for Douglas said in late December that there was “nothing to report’ at the time when asked to comment on Douglas’ gymnastics future and the reports of her return to training, which included a photo that appeared to be taken at WOGA with coach Anna Liukin addressing a group of gymnasts including Douglas. Douglas’ gym affiliation was also changed on her USA Gymnastics bio to WOGA.

WOGA produced the two Olympic all-around champions before Douglas — Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin — and reigning U.S. all-around champion Konnor McClain.

Douglas, 27, last competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics, winning a second consecutive team gold medal. For the next six years, there were no reports of her training, but she never announced a retirement.

If Douglas makes a run for the 2024 Paris Games, she will bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic female gymnast since 1952, according to Suni Lee and Simone Biles, the last two Olympic all-around gold medalists, could also return to elite competition this year or next, which could make for an unprecedented field of champions at domestic meets.

Lee said in November that she plans to return to elite gymnastics after her current sophomore season at Auburn ends in April. Biles has said she is undecided about returning before the 2024 Paris Games, but has kept her name in a drug-testing pool to make a potential comeback easier. Neither has competed on the elite level since the Tokyo Games.

It is rare for an Olympian in any sport to return from a break of more than a year or two.

In gymnastics, Annia Hatch competed at the 1996 World Championships for Cuba, retired in 1997, became a U.S. citizen, returned to major competition in 2002 and made the 2004 U.S. Olympic team at age 26.

In 2021, 2008 Olympian Chellsie Memmel ended a nine-year retirement. She competed at nationals as a 32-year-old mother of two and did not make Olympic Trials.

Douglas, a Virginia Beach native, started gymnastics at age 6 in 2002 and left her family in 2010 to train in West Des Moines, Iowa, under Liang Chow, who had led Shawn Johnson to four medals at the Beijing Games.

The move paid off. After finishing fourth in the junior all-around at the 2010 U.S. Championships, Douglas moved up to senior in 2011 and was the youngest member of that year’s world championships team that took gold.

Douglas soared even higher in 2012. That March, she posted the highest all-around score at the American Cup, ahead of world champion Jordyn Wieber.

Douglas then took second to Wieber at the U.S. Championships and won the Olympic Trials, setting her up as an all-around gold-medal contender in London.

In the Olympic all-around final, Douglas won by the second-closest margin of victory (.259 of a point over Russian Viktoria Komova) under the scoring system implemented after the 2004 Athens Games.

She became the first Black gymnast to capture an Olympic all-around title and the third consecutive American after Patterson and Liukin. Biles and Lee extended the streak at the last two Games.

After London, Douglas took two full years off from competition, bouncing from Iowa to Los Angeles to Iowa to Ohio at different training gyms. She returned in 2015, along with Aly Raisman, determined to become the first gymnast to make back-to-back U.S. Olympic women’s teams since 2000.

Douglas was shaky at first but peaked at the October 2015 World Championships, taking the all-around silver medal behind Biles.

Douglas then won the March 2016 American Cup, her first all-around title since the London Games.

Douglas had struggles at the meets that decided the five-woman Rio Olympic team, placing fourth in the all-around at the U.S. Championships and seventh at the Olympic Trials.

Still, Douglas was chosen for the squad, based partly on her experience, her strong 2015 season and her skill on uneven bars.

Douglas tried to defend her all-around title in Rio but was outscored by Biles and Raisman in qualifying. A nation can advance no more than two gymnasts per individual Olympic final, so Douglas’ defense ended there, even though her qualifying score would have earned silver in the all-around final.

She helped the U.S. to repeat gold in the team event and, in her most recent competitive routine, placed seventh in the bars final.

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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