LONDON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama wants an audience with her, Oprah Winfrey is “flowing happy tears” for her and spookily her surname is an anagram of ‘USA gold’ - no wonder Americans cannot get enough of Gabby Douglas.
Games sweetheart Douglas tumbled her way into the hearts of her compatriots after joining Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin as the only American women to win the coveted Olympic all-round gymnastics crown.
Unlike her predecessors, Douglas is the first from her country to land a team gold to go with individual success and Romanian great Nadia Comaneci believes the 16-year-old can become the most famous gymnast to emerge from the U.S.
“She made history by being the first black lady to win the competition. She just rocked,” Comaneci told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“I think it’s great because she’s different, she’s unique, she’s so bold. She will have so many opportunities coming her way.”
Douglas was described by U.S. team co-ordinator Marta Karolyi as someone who rose from “an average good gymnast to a fantastic one” in just five months this year.
“People keep saying I‘m the first black American to win the gold medal and I‘m so honored,” the teenager said after her spellbinding victory.
Armed with a sassy nickname, a bubbly personality, a megawatt smile and two gold medals with maybe more to come in the apparatus finals, the ‘Flying Squirrel’ already seems to possess the cross-over appeal that has made Tiger Woods and Venus and Serena Williams sporting greats.
Asked if Douglas would have a wider global appeal because of her background, Comaneci said: ”Yes, definitely, I think so. Her victory is a great thing for the sport, something new.
”I just love it that she has an unbelievable personality and is going to represent the sport very well.
“She’s gonna do great. She’s going to the White House, she’ll go to the Oscars, the Grammys ... everything. She deserves all of those treats. She’s going to have lots of doors open for her because she is the new face of gymnastics.”
Douglas was the subject of a pre-Games article in Time magazine and also shared the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Olympic edition with her ‘Fierce Five’ colleagues who went on to claim team gold in London.
The first African-American to wear the all-round crown now looks ready to emerge from the Games as a marketing dynamo.
In an age where ‘a nobody’ can become ‘a somebody’ at the click of a button, Douglas’s new-found popularity can be gauged by her Twitter account.
She arrived in London last week with just a few thousand followers and that figure swelled to around 200,000 after she and her ‘Fierce Five’ team mates won the team gold.
It then started surging towards the half a million mark within 24 hours of her solo success.
Sport, however, is littered with millionaire teenage casualties.
American Jennifer Capriati was the six-million dollar girl long before she played her first professional tennis match but ended up being arrested for shoplifting and for possession of marijuana at 17.
Comaneci said Douglas should not let the sudden attention go to her head.
”Gabby should walk down all the red carpets because she deserves to,“ the Romanian added. ”I‘m sure there will be a couple of months of celebrations.
“But she will also have to figure out a way to stay grounded and work out where she wants to go from here,” said Comaneci who is all too familiar with how intoxicating sudden fame can be after she was feted the world over for earning the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics in 1976.
”She has a great coach and he’ll help her to find the right balance between all the fun stuff she should enjoy but she should also stay in the sport. She’s so lucky that she won at 16 and not 18 so I don’t think she’s done yet.
“Gymnastics is her life and I think she should go for gold in Rio (in 2016) too,” added Comaneci.
Editing by Tony Jimenez