By Rick Assad
Like Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947, three-time Olympic Gold medalist Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas is a pioneer.
On Friday at the Staples store in the Burbank Empire Center, about 700 people, mostly young girls and their parents, stood in line to meet and greet the 21-year-old gymnast.
At the 2012 Games in London, Douglas, who hails from Newport News, Virginia and resides in West Des Moines, Iowa, became the first African-American to capture the Gold medal in the women’s individual all-around and the first United States gymnast to secure the all-around and team competition in the same Olympics.
In fact, Douglas, along with Simone Biles, are the only gymnasts to win multiple Gold medals at a single Olympics.
The fans waited, including a mother and her young daughter since 4 a.m., about seven hours before Douglas arrived, with great anticipation, many with pictures of Douglas in their hands and some with her autobiography, “Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith,” hoping to get signed.
Greg Maxwell and his seven-year-old daughter, Milan, came from View Park to see Douglas.
Milan is a fan and a gymnast, and her father said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that she will be in the 2024 or more likely the 2028 Olympic Games, which will be held in Los Angeles.
“She was motivated when she watched the biography of Gabby Douglas and she started to watch her on YouTube,” Maxwell said.
“It is an opportunity for kids to see someone they see on TV and in some cases idolize,” he said. “It’s three-dimensional. It humanizes the athlete and it gives the athlete some normalcy.”
Maxwell said hopefully Milan is on her way and will follow in Douglas’ footsteps.
“She’s been a tumbler since she was a toddler,” he said while holding a picture of Douglas.
Tony Lopez, who lives in Riverside, made the hour and a half trek clutching a pristine Olympic flag that he wanted Douglas, who additionally helped the United States squad win the team title at the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland in 2015 and Tokyo, Japan in 2011, to autograph.
“I bought this only last week online,” he said of the flag. “I love the Olympics and I care about the athletes who represent our country. I think that it inspires the younger generations.”
Lopez, a general sports fan, said the first Olympics he remembered watching was the Barcelona Games in 1992.
“That was the Olympics of the Dream Team and Oscar De La Hoya,” he said. “I’ve been following the Olympic Games ever since.”
It’s been said the 12 players who comprised that Gold medal-winning basketball team was the best-ever and it included Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, David Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Duke’s Christian Laettner.
De La Hoya, from East Los Angeles, was a Gold medal-winning boxer and a 10-time world champion in six different weight classes and owns Golden Boy Promotions, one of the most successful ever.
Jazmin Erving, who works in Burbank, lives in Valley Village and is the founder of Grab A Ball & Play Foundation, was there with her daughter and ten-year-old niece, Jacodi Jones, who resides in Portland, Oregon, were thrilled to meet and take pictures with Douglas, who won the team Gold medal in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
“I like her because she always keeps trying and never gives up,” Jones said of Douglas, who is both a hero and an inspiration to countless girls and young women.
Cherie Mouton was on hand with her daughter, nine-year-old Aubrey Doty, a gymnast who started in the sport two years ago and hopes to be like Douglas, who was named Female Athlete of the Year in 2012 by the Associated Press, and only the fourth gymnast ever to be selected.
“I’m excited to be here,” said Doty, who lives in Lancaster. “It’s in me. Gymnastics is my favorite sport.”
Douglas, who was on the cover of Time Magazine and cereal boxes of Kellogg’s corn flakes and Wheaties, was not permitted to speak with this reporter, per her public relations representative.