NEWARK, N.J. – The 2016 Olympic opening ceremony is exactly five months away and reigning Olympic all-around champion Gabrielle Douglas is kicking off her road to another gold in a similar fashion as in 2012.
Douglas claimed her first all-around title since the 2012 Olympics as she won the AT&T American Cup at the Prudential Center with a 60.165 score. Compatriot and rising star Maggie Nichols (59.699) was runner-up.
The 2012 American Cup in Madison Square Garden was the meet that put the spotlight on the future U.S. champion. Douglas scored better than reigning world all-around champion and future Olympic teammate Jordyn Wieber, but it would not count as she competed as an alternate. On Saturday, Douglas laughed as she finally was able to hoist the American Cup trophy four years later.
“I feel so honored to be a competitor this year,” Douglas said. “It just feels amazing and sort of deja vu.”
Douglas did not foresee herself stopping with the gold medal around her neck after the London Olympics. She believed there was still room to improve and get better—a scary thought that could come to fruition in 2016.
Here are three quick takeaways from the day’s action:
Douglas is still good in 2016
Douglas deserves to be commended for making it to the 2016 American Cup. While many previous Olympic champions have decided to retire and cash out soon after their shining moment at the Summer Games, she has her sights set on a second U.S. Olympic team.
On Saturday, Douglas recorded the best scores of the day in the vault, uneven bars and beam. Her 14.966 on the beam provided the biggest wow factor and solidified the seriousness of her attempt to become the first American gymnast since Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow (1996-2000) to make back-to-back Olympic teams.
“It’s all about doing it for the right thing,” Douglas said of her comeback. “For me, I want to do this because from the bottom of my heart, I know I can do more. It’s all about your desire and motivation. I feel like if you’re doing it for the wrong intentions then stuff isn’t going to go your way.”
Douglas returned to competition last year and became the first all-around Olympic champion to medal at the world championships when she took silver behind compatriot Simone Biles. Biles, the three-time world champion, could open her season at the Jesolo Cup in Italy later this month.
The American Cup is not the big date circled on Douglas’s calendar for 2016, as the road to Rio may include stops at the P&G Championships in St. Louis on June 23–26 before the U.S. Olympic trials in San Jose on July 8–10. The U.S. Olympic team is selected after the trials.
In the meantime, Douglas still sees room for improvement.
“[I need] cleaner landings on my floor, on my turns, too,” Douglas said. “The one I was most pleased with was the beam because I wanted it to be really solid. There’s still more work left to be done though. I’ll take it.”
Get familiar with Maggie Nichols
Maggie Nichols is coming off a year in which she won bronze in the floor exercise at the 2015 world championships. It’s time to take notice of the 18-year-old with a very good shot of making the Olympic.
Nichols successfully debuted a new floor routine on Saturday and recorded the highest score of the competition. That in itself was a mission accomplished for the young star.
“I think I gained a lot more confidence knowing I can hit my routines at this big of a meet,” Nichols said. “I wasn’t with a team so I was on my own and it was nice to get that experience.”
Nichols is no stranger to upending Olympic talent, as she finished ahead of Douglas, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross at the 2015 P&G Championships before her success at worlds. She was close on Saturday but will be a force to be reckoned with at the upcoming Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, Wash., on April 8–10 and beyond.
“She showed again that you can trust her,” USA gymnastics coach Marta Károlyi said. “Consistency is her trademark. She is a very clean gymnast that performs with good technique, skills and great artistry level.”
Nichols vs. Douglas
Nichols – 15.033 (Difficulty 5.80; Execution 9.233)
Douglas – 15.100 (Difficult 5.80; Execution: 9.300)
Nichols – 14.633 (Diff. 5.8; Exec. 8.833)
Douglas – 15.266 (Diff. 6.50; Exec. 8.766)
Douglas – 14.966 (Diff. 6.30; Exec. 8.866)
Nichols – 14.833 (Diff. 6.30; Exec. 8.533)
Douglas – 14.833 (Diff. 6.00; Exec. 8.833)
Nichols – 15.200 (Diff. 6.30; Exec. 8.900)
U.S. men just warming up
Coming off strong performances at the Winter Cup in Las Vegas, Sam Mikulak captured the all-around title at the 2016 Winter Cup while Donnell Whittenburg, last year’s world vault bronze medalist, finished sixth.
Ryohei Kato of Japan, a member of the 2015 world championship-winning team, took the all-around title in 88.8 after closing with a 15.233 on the high bar.
Whittenberg was in position to claim what could have been the biggest title of his career and posted four of the six best scores of the day. He posted a 13.300 in the high bar, which was not enough to catch Kato in the final event so he settled for second place with an 88.565.
Mikulak, making a comeback back from a partially torn Achilles, struggled in the early rotations and showed some promise with a 15.466 in the parallel bars before falling in the high bar and getting back on to finish in fourth place overall with a 13.366.