The 2016 Olympic womens gymnastics competition is over and the medals all awarded, but one gymnast seemed to have a rougher time than the others. That would be the 2012 Olympics all-around champ Gabby Douglas, who this time around didn’t come close to her triumph of four years ago.
Those of us who’ve been following gymnastics since Russian Olga Korbut’s smash 1972 Olympics performances know that women gymnasts who are gold medalists in one Olympics rarely do better four years later. In 1976, Korbut was not the star -- but Nadia Comaneci of Romania was. There are exceptions, such as Aly Raisman, but generally that’s been the rule.
The following USA Today piece is typical of what Douglas' second week of competition has been like. There is much more to this painful, social-media ordeal than people criticizing her scores in Rio 2016. Legions of people are even making fun of her hair. USA Today notes:
RIO DE JANEIRO –- If there was any doubt Gabby Douglas was hurting, that the Olympics had become far more painful than she’d ever imagined after her decision to return for an encore, it was all erased not long after she finished seventh in the uneven bars on Sunday.
For nearly 10 minutes after the likely final event of her career, the 20-year-old American, who had such a thrill ride four years ago in London, spoke with reporters about the emotional roller coaster here. As if failing to qualify for the individual all-around finals after winning in groundbreaking fashion in 2012 and earning just the team gold weren’t enough, she was criticized at every turn in the social media spectrum so often devoid of humanity.
They said she was unpatriotic on Wednesday, when Douglas was the only member of the Final Five who didn’t place her hand on her heart during the national anthem after they won gold. They said she was bitter on Thursday, when Simone Biles won the individual all-around, Aly Raisman won silver and Douglas -- who was clapping -- didn’t stand and cheer like her teammates Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian.
The article goes on to chronicle her misfortunes this past week but it does not refer to her much-documented brand of stoic Christianity that has brought her through tough times. That was left to faith-friendly outlets like the Deseret News or Christian Today, which have chronicled her faith background.
Unlike many athletes, Douglas has written a book: "Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith," about her beliefs, so no one covering the sports beat can make the excuse they didn’t know this about her.
So why don't reporters ask her if her Christianity has made a difference during this tough week? The “faith factor” was never mentioned in this Washington Post article about Douglas’ trials nor in this ESPN commentary on the nastiness of social media in general and how it has affected Douglas.
In her most recent interviews, Douglas has not mentioned her faith -- at least, not in quotes that have made it into public media. Still, that does not completely excuse sports reporters from doing their homework. Did reporters feel that Douglas' faith was covered four years ago and that no more need to be said?
We’ve been noting for the past two weeks now how religion is brought into the mix when a competitor wears a hijab but not so when they give “glory to God” immediately after a swimming victory. It seems to me that thanking God after a win or dropping to one’s knees on the tarmac of a race track is so common in sports, journalists typically ignore repeating religious remarks unless there’s a pressing reason to do so.
The key issue, as tmatt has been noting over and over and over and over, is what happens when journalists write feature stories about what makes athletes tick, the convictions and forces that shape their lives and help them cope with adversity. That's certainly what we are dealing with right now with the coverage of Douglas. Right?
Meanwhile, journalists apply a magnifying class to every other aspect of a competitor’s personality, yet consistently leave out their religious beliefs. We’ve seen this pattern for the entire Olympics and it does feel quite intentional.
The reasons vary. I’ve known of sports reporters who include such remarks, but their editors remove them. Other times, the reporters simply don’t repeat the God stuff. Or the quotes are so meandering, they’re too tough to get down in a sound bite.
You'd think, though, that when the going gets tough, the tough occasionally call upon God. So if you're doing a piece on Gabby Douglas' tough week, why wouldn't you at least wonder if she's at least praying? Why can't they ask her if her faith is giving her solace? Does she feel that the faith-filled statements she made during more victorious times might ring hollow now? All these questions are worth asking, if reporters would have the guts to speak them out.