That said, it wasn't going to happen by itself. If Douglas wanted to win the women's all-around gymnastics title at the London Olympics, she knew she could not lose her focus for even a second. "My mom was sending me motivational quotes all day,'' said Douglas, 16. "I just wanted to give my all, to go out there, do my best and just be great.''
What Douglas accomplished Thursday was more than great. It was historic, as she hit four sublime routines to become the first black athlete to win the Olympic gold medal in the women's all-around. Douglas scored 62.232 points to finish ahead of Russians Victoria Komova (61.973) and Aliya Mustafina (59.566), giving the United States its third consecutive Olympic title in the event.
Only a year ago, at the U.S. championships at Xcel Energy Center, Douglas flashed a huge yet unpolished talent. Coach Liang Chow taught her the focus and control she needed to turn it into gold. Douglas' progress over the past five months astounded U.S. women's program director Martha Karolyi, who said she had never seen a gymnast make such a leap so quickly.
The only damper on the day was the heartbreak of teammate Aly Raisman. Though she finished in a tie for third with Mustafina, she lost the bronze medal on a tiebreaker that compares each gymnast's three highest scores. Mustafina's three best equaled 45.933, while those of Raisman -- whose uncharacteristically shaky beam routine cost her a medal -- totaled 45.366.
Douglas earned the day's best scores on beam and vault and showed remarkable consistency, hitting all of her routines just as she had in leading the United States to team gold on Tuesday. Though she said she believed she had the ability to win, she had a hard time believing that she had.
"I always wanted to be on top at the Olympics,'' Douglas said. "Then you actually do it, and you're just like, 'Oh, my goodness! This is actually happening!' It's definitely an amazing feeling. I never pictured this.
"People keep saying I'm the first black American to win the gold medal. It feels amazing. I feel so honored.''
The gold also carried deep meaning for Chow, who has trained Douglas for two years at his gym in West Des Moines, Iowa. His first superstar student was Shawn Johnson, who finished second to Nastia Liukin for the Olympic all-around title in 2008.
Johnson was among a crowd Thursday that alternated chants of "USA! USA!'' with "Gabby! Gabby!'' As the final scores were posted, Chow beamed as he enfolded Douglas in his arms.
"Before, people weren't sure about her mental toughness,'' he said. "She demonstrated she can handle the toughest job. It was a wonderful performance under huge pressure.''
Douglas, of Virginia Beach, Va., was 14 when she decided she needed a coach who could bring out her undeveloped talent. She believed Chow was the right one, and she persuaded her mother to allow her to move to Iowa and live with a host family so she could train with him. Hawkins has called it the most gut-wrenching decision of her life, but she could not stand in the way of her daughter's desire.
Thursday, she watched as Douglas took the lead on the first rotation and never let go. The girl nicknamed "The Flying Squirrel'' landed a soaring vault, followed by her fluid and fearless bars routine.
Then came the balance beam. Douglas' biggest issue always has been her inability to shut out the world around her, a flaw that rose again at the U.S. championships in June when she looked around at the crowd and fell off the beam. Thursday, she combined masterful body control with unshakable concentration, setting off another chant with a score of 15.500.
"She made such great improvement, it's incredible in this short time,'' Karolyi said. "I haven't seen anyone go from average good gymnast five months ago to climb up to be best in the world. She performs with extreme lightness. I told her, my little squirrel flew extra high today.''
Karolyi said Douglas' mental strength had improved month by month over that period, and it showed. Chow had forbidden her to look at the scoreboard, fearing it would break her focus. Douglas admitted to peeking, and clearly it had no effect.
Chow said he did not foresee this on the day Douglas walked into his gym. But when she sought him out, he learned she was precocious; when she left home to train with him, he learned she was brave and dedicated.
Now, she's an Olympic champion, and a trailblazer to boot.
"I made a lot of sacrifices, but they all paid off,'' Douglas said. "My mom was always telling me, 'You can inspire a nation.' I always thought of that as my motivation. I want to inspire people. If you're having a hard time, never give up and always keep fighting.''