Gymnastics, Media

To Keep It Real(ity) or Not

There’s been a lot of talk in the gymnastics world in the past week about the newly-announced reality show with the working title Douglas Family Gold featuring Gabby Douglas and her family. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of the show, check out this excerpt from the announcement:

Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas stunned the world in 2012 by becoming the first African American in history to win the individual all-around gold medal at the Summer Olympics. Behind her meteoric rise was a supportive family willing to sacrifice everything for years to help her dream. Now 19, Gabby is ready to do it all over again in hopes of making it back to the medal podium in 2016. The Douglas family shuttles between California and Ohio to support Gabby’s training regimen while also juggling their own lives. Her brother John is the family’s second Olympic hopeful in track and field, while devoted sisters Arie and Joy are eager to blaze their own paths. “Momager” Natalie keeps this tight-knit family in check, knowing regardless of what happens, “Team Douglas” has already won gold.

First off, “stunned the world” might be stretching it a little bit. I mean, she did win the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials over the reigning World Champion one month before the London Olympics.

Anyway, most of the talk has been focused on whether doing this show is good or bad for Gabby, and whether or not this is the “real” reason for her comeback — instead of for the pure love of the sport and competition.

To me personally, none of that matters. All of the main parties involved are adults and capable of making the right decision for themselves. Gymnastics is a hard sport to get a return on investment with. Gymnasts have to take their opportunities when they get them, whether it be by college scholarship or, if the gymnast is fortunate enough to be among the best of the best, professional endorsements and such. For what it’s worth, though, Gabby seemed to enjoy herself more than she ever has before during a competition at the Jesolo Trophy Cup this past weekend (her first meet since the London Olympics).

I’ve seen some compare the show to the Quest for Gold mini-series Aly Raisman did in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics, and wonder why this announcement is being met with so much more trepidation.

To me, it isn’t an apples to apples comparison. Quest for Gold was a docu-series like the Dutch The Hard Way to Success videos. To be fair to those with concerns, documentaries like those seldom have the length of impact and disruption to someone’s day-to-day life that reality shows do. In a preparation-intensive sport like gymnastics, time is precious, particularly in the year leading up to the Olympics. In fact, there’s already an example of the impact appearing in a reality show can have on a gymnast’s performance.

Carlotta Ferlito is one of the biggest names in Italian gymnastics. Carlotta was one of the stars of the MTV Italy series Ginnaste – Vite Parallele, which follows the lives of a number of gymnasts training in Milan. However, after a few years of doing the show she bowed out in late 2014/early 2015 citing the hindrance it had become to her training. The results of her decision were immediately noticeable. She performed well at Italy’s Serie A, and went on to finish 3rd in the Jesolo Trophy Cup beam final, looking more fit and focused than ever to many.

But I’ll admit, despite my feeling that everyone is entitled to pursue projects that make them happy and/or further their careers, something about this reality show deal doesn’t sit right with me. It gives me pause like the Gym Mom website and book Jordyn Wieber’s mom did. 

I remember seeing the promotions featuring signed merchandise from Jordyn and wondering if the decision to turn pro for her was truly predicated on what she wanted, especially since Jordyn reveled in the team atmosphere and didn’t seem as comfortable with the spotlight as the 3 of her Olympic teammates who also turned pro (Gabby, Aly, and McKayla Maroney). It didn’t take long for her to leave the pro elite world behind once she got a taste of college gymnastics, which is notoriously team-oriented, either. If she had remained an amateur, she could’ve continued competing in college, instead of simply being a team manager. 

Along those lines, I wonder if this reality show is something Gabby would be doing on her own, if her family wasn’t involved.

Warranted or not, Gabby and her mother have drawn the ire of some in the gym community for some curious decisions: leaving London solo before the rest of the team to start media touring, the Lifetime TV movie done about 6 months after the Olympics, the unceremonious exit from Chow’s Gymnastics (the coach she won the all-around title with) under curious circumstances to name a few. Many have long said that Gabby’s mom is pulling the strings, hoping to parlay Gabby’s accomplishments into a solid foundation for the rest of the family to build off of. I’ve done my best to resist that line of thinking, but I’m having a hard time doing that now.

As I said before, I don’t have anything against the Douglas family doing a reality show. But since it is cashing in off of her name and accomplishments, I just hope it’s something Gabby fully wants and it doesn’t hinder her from reaching the full potential of her comeback.


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