LONDON (Reuters) - Gabby Douglas arrived at the ‘Twitter Olympics’ with a handful of followers, a cute nickname and a bubbly personality to go with her megawatt smile.
Now everyone from Barack Obama to Oprah Winfrey wants to shake hands and rub shoulders with the Flying Squirrel after she blazed a trail to become the first African-American to win the women’s all-around gymnastics Olympic crown.
“For me going down in history being the first black American to win the gold, I think more colored people are going to start coming to the gymnastics world and say ‘okay, anything is possible. If Gabby did it, then I can do it too’,” said the 16-year-old ‘Fierce Five’ member after setting Twitter abuzz with her gold-medal exploits in the team and all-around finals.
Douglas’s triumph sparked an explosion in Twitter followers with her account now surging close to the 650,000 mark.
The teenager was not the only American to become an internet sensation at these Games. McKayla Maroney, or rather her scowling face, has gone viral after she looked far from impressed while standing on the second tier of the podium with the silver medal she earned in the vault final.
While the American women head home with their best gold-medal haul from the Olympics, with Aly Raisman taking the count to three for her tumbling prowess on the floor, the London Games heralded a welcome change in the gymnastics world order.
Four years after China obliterated the opposition to win nine of the 14 golds on offer, including seven of the eight men’s titles, rival nations rejoiced at the North Greenwich Arena as they ripped apart the Asian superpower’s aura of invincibility.
China still went home with four golds, the most by any country, following wins in the men’s team, floor exercise, parallel bars and women’s balance beam.
Beijing survivor Zou Kai became the most successful Chinese gymnast by taking his career tally to five golds and a bronze.
However, China’s failure to put forward contenders for five finals, including the men’s all-around, would not have gone down well at home and there will be a hive of activity in gymnasiums across the country over the next four years to right that wrong in the 2016 Rio Games.
China’s loss was the rest of the world’s gain as nine nations shared gold-medal success in London and Japan’s Kohei Uchimura lived up to his Super-mura moniker by capping his hat-trick of world titles with the men’s all-around Olympic crown.
While rivals gushed “he’s in a different world”, Uchimura was more relieved than elated after finally snapping a run of winning three Olympic silvers, including in the 2012 team final, behind China.
“I was getting a little tired with silver, I have more silver medals than I would have ever wanted and I feel as if the demon was chasing me this time,” the 23-year-old said.
“I have been world champion three times in a row but this is a different feeling. The Olympics are only once in four years so I have been waiting for this moment. It’s like a dream.”
Arthur Zanetti was also in dreamland as he became Brazil’s first Olympic gymnastics champion. His win on the rings gave audiences around the world a flavor of the carnival atmosphere they can expect in 2016 as fans clad in green-and-yellow danced and sang in the aisles after Zanetti snatched gold ahead of 2008 champion Chen Yibing.
The biggest cheers, or roars rather, were saved for hosts Britain, who savored their most successful Olympics, winning four medals including a men’s team bronze.
Louis Smith, and 13,000 hollering fans, thought he had ended the home nation’s 116-year search for a gymnastics gold with success on the pommel horse.
However, the befuddling tiebreak rule, which takes the execution score into consideration when scores are tied, left him with silver behind Hungary’s Krisztian Berki even though both got 16.066 points.
“I can’t sit here with my face screwed up just because I got a silver at the Olympic Games. Great Britain are making history. It is a fantastic day for the sport,” Smith said.
Editing by Clare Fallon