Olympic champion Gabby Douglas a hometown hero to aspiring gymnasts

Excalibur Gymnastics in Virginia Beach, Va. was the place where Gabby Douglas' Olympic hopes first took off. Getty

(CBS News) VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - 16-year-old Gabby Douglas is the breakout star of the London Olympics. She made history when she struck gold in gymnastics, and her smile lit up the arena.

Excalibur Gymnastics -- in her hometown of Virginia Beach, Va. -- the place where Gabby Douglas' Olympic hopes first took off.

Beyonce to Gabby Douglas: "Thank you for inspiring all of us!"
Gabby Douglas the new cover girl for Corn Flakes
Olympics golden girl Gabby Douglas called marketer's dream

Her talent was obvious to Coach Dena Walker. She began coaching Douglas at eight years old.

"(Gabby had) just incredible flexibility, really spunky, very quick, good power, strong. All the attributes you would need to be an Olympic champion," Walker told CBS News.

Two years ago, at age 14, Douglas moved 1,200 miles and a world away, to Iowa, to train with a new coach who'd trained other Olympians. She saw her mother just four times in two years.

But last night, her mother was there as she vaulted into Olympic history. Douglas is the first African American and only the fourth American woman to win the all around individual gymnastics gold medal. Mary Lou Retton was the first.

"She has inspired a whole generation of young African Americans to say, 'You know what I can do this too,'" Retton said. "I mean, I get goosebumps when I say it. 'I can do and be just like Gabby Douglas and do what she did, the world is at my doorstep.'"

Day of Olympic firsts for Team USA
Gabby Douglas on win: "Such an amazing experience"

At Douglas' old gym, 9-year-old Micah Swaby -- who trains about 5 hours a day, 5 days a week -- now dreams of her own Olympic moment.

"It's very inspiring and it makes me want to push myself harder," she said.

Olympic Gymnastics all-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas receives her very own special edition box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, on August 3, 2012 in London, England.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images for Kelloggs
The young gymnasts watched together Thursday as Douglas gave her gold-medal performance.

"It's weird seeing her as an Olympian and that's what people know her as -- because I still see her as just Gabby, my friend," teammate Chase Walker said.

Her friend is now an Olympic champion.

"It means so much, all the hard work and dedication and effort put in the gym and hard days," Douglas explained. "And hard days are the best because that's where champions are made, so if you push through the hard days you can get through anything."

The discipline, drive and talent that first blossomed at Excalibur Gymnastics is now in full bloom.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter