The rumors began at last week, as Gabby Douglas and her Fierce Five teammates made their triumphant return to the U.S. Championships. While only two — McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross — were back in leotard, nobody was ready to talk retirement yet.
Particularly not Douglas, who many believe did not reach the peak of her abilities last summer in London. With coach Liang Chow by her side, the Olympic all-around champion could attain even greater heights.
It still seems possible for Douglas, 17, to get to a second Olympic Games, and even more possible that she will be able to make U.S. teams for other major events during the next few years.
But if she does, she will not be coached by Chow.
That was the word whispered at Nationals in Hartford, Conn., though it went unconfirmed throughout the weekend, with Douglas answering a direct question from AP reporter Will Graves by saying, “Have I changed coaches? No, I’m still at Chow’s…as far as I know I’m still with Chow.”
But The Des Moines Register reported today that Douglas, who moved back in with her host family in Iowa in May and resumed workouts at Chow’s Gymnastics with the intention of returning to competition in 2014, has now moved to California, where her family relocated earlier this year.
The plan now seems to be for Douglas to train with UCLA Associate Head Coach Chris Waller, a 1992 U.S. men’s Olympian, at his gym near Los Angeles.
Waller has a good track record with older, more experienced gymnasts. He notably coached 26-year-old Mohini Bhardwaj onto the 2004 Olympic team. He has also been tapped to work with Jordyn Wieber, who will attend UCLA this fall.
One of the big questions surrounding Gabby Douglas and her gymnastics has been how well she can do on her own — or at least, without Chow’s coaching. Her rise to Olympic glory has been directly attributed to her move to Chow’s from Excalibur in Virginia in late 2010, and Douglas herself has credited him for turning her from an inconsistent junior into a confident, Olympics-ready senior in the space of about 18 months.
So much has happened to her in the space of two years that it’s sometimes easy to forget that Douglas is still a very young athlete, who will turn 18 on New Year’s Eve. Douglas has also made it clear how hard it was for her to leave her family in Virginia in 2010 and come to Iowa.
“She came over (Monday) and said goodbye to us,” Chow’s wife Liwen Zhuang told The Register. “I didn’t ask her (the reasons). I did talk to her. She was a little upset. I guess that’s a family decision for her.”
Olympic gymnastics comebacks in the United States have been something of a mixed bag. Beijing Olympic stars Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin both made returns to the game late in the 2012 cycle. While each showed elite-level difficulty in their routines, both also acknowledged that they were not what they had been in 2008.
Johnson tore her ACL skiing in early 2010 and bowed out in the spring of 2012. Liukin, the 2008 Olympic champion, competed at Olympic Trials having run out of time to get back into optimal form.
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