'I had a dream to follow'
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 10 Interview issue. Subscribe today!
I DIDN'T FEEL PRESSURE during the Olympics to become the first African-American to win an individual all-around gold medal in gymnastics. I actually felt more pressure during the Olympic trials. There were no guaranteed spots, so the hardest part -- the thing I worried about -- was just making the team. Trials was when I learned to deal with the pressure of performing in the spotlight, of having everyone watching me. Can you do it or not?
Of course I still got nervous during the Olympics, but each day I just visualized the perfect routine, had little conversations with myself: Okay, watch the corners, keep your feet together. I didn't think about winning.
I really didn't know that people were talking about my hair until after the all-around finals, when I Googled "Gabrielle Douglas" and "hair" popped up. I asked my mom, "Why are they talking about my hair?" It didn't faze me. There was nothing wrong with my hair. I can't do a full-out blow-dried thing before I perform a routine, so I just laughed off [the criticism], wore my hair the same way I always did and went out and did my thing. I focused on the positive, supportive people around me. I didn't have time for the naysayers because I had a job to do in London. I had a dream to follow.
Life has changed a lot for me since the Olympics. It's been a whirlwind—go, go, go. I get recognized everywhere now, and I've gotten to do amazing things like appear at the MTV Video Music Awards and meet the cast of The Vampire Diaries, my favorite show. But I haven't forgotten that my family had to make sacrifices and put pretty much everything on the line for me. I'm so thankful and honored that I just cherish every opportunity and take it all in.