Gabby Douglas won gold in London, endearing herself to America along the way. Four years later, Buckeye Gymnastics is guiding her defiant pursuit of more in Rio.

Gabby Douglas won gold in London, endearing herself to America along the way. Four years later, Buckeye Gymnastics is guiding her defiant pursuit of more in Rio.

Chaos surrounds Gabby Douglas-a world of frantic, choreographed, tumbling parts. She floats above it all at times, brief acts of rebellion against gravity, before returning to the noise and the frenzy below.

Her training center is a hive; young gymnasts of all ranks practice beam, vault and uneven bars while Douglas prepares near the floor apparatus. A kinetic swarm of children runs in an endless loop around a play area cordoned off by padded barriers. The walls are lined with rows of trophies and Ohio-shaped awards, all given a touch more luster by the Olympian standing nearby.

Douglas became a sensation at the 2012 London Games after winning gold medals in the women's individual all-around and team competitions. Now she's pursuing that stage once more, seeking to rekindle the flame of her improbable run. If she captures the all-around gold again, she'll be the first female gymnast to defend her Olympic title in almost half a century and the first American to accomplish the feat. To achieve such lofty ambitions, she must conquer the limitations of her age and the demanding lifestyle of a reigning champion turned media darling. Oh, and she'll have to outshine her teammate and friend, Simone Biles, who's already hailed as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time.

The journey from London to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro has carried Douglas to an unlikely spot-Buckeye Gymnastics in Westerville. Kittia Carpenter sits at a table near the gym's reception area talking about going to the Olympics, that ultimate goal. She also talks about her interest in Latin dance; Brazil seems like a convenient place to learn. She's hoping her job as Douglas' coach will provide a direct route to Rio, for gold and dancing and anything else it can offer. It has taken decades to get to this point, but she's getting closer by the day.

Buckeye Gymnastics opened in 1983, and cofounder David Holcomb hired Carpenter three years later, after her stint as a coach with another Westerville gym. "I decided if she was going to do a great job doing gymnastics, she should do it with me," Holcomb exclaims, laughing alongside Carpenter. He has helped guide Buckeye from an enrollment of 52 kids to its current roster of about 3,000, participating in gymnastics, cheerleading and more at locations in Powell and Westerville. Carpenter is the director of the girls' team, overseeing the entire program of about 200 competitive gymnasts, from 5-year-old beginners to the 20-year-old Olympian.

The center's first noteworthy competitor was Tracy Butler (now Coe), a gymnast from Worthington who represented the U.S. internationally in the 1980s. She began training with Holcomb at age 7 before he opened Buckeye, but she left to pursue the 1984 Olympics at Parkettes gym in Pennsylvania. An elite gymnast had never come from Ohio, Coe says, and there were only three gyms in the nation for Olympic-caliber talent at the time. She returned in 1986 after growing tired of training away from home-her parents stayed in Columbus while she lived with a host family-and she became the fifth-ranked gymnast in the nation under the tutelage of Holcomb and Carpenter, although she never reached the Games. Over the ensuing years, other promising young gymnasts left Buckeye in the hopes that more renowned gyms would better train them for the national team and placement on the Olympic squad.

Douglas' arrival in 2014 was an unexpected gift, and with the Olympics now in view, the entire gymnastics program could reap the benefits.

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It's just after 9 on a Tuesday morning in June, and Douglas works on the balance beam. She's a pinwheel of limbs-legs over torso over head over arms-and then upright again, composed and vertical. She hops directly into the air, and her legs bend upward at impossible angles, like a winch is lifting her toes toward the ceiling. She receives brief applause for each completed movement from Christian Gallardo, a girls' team coach who works with Douglas and the other elite Buckeye gymnasts.

It's crunch time, less than eight weeks until the opening ceremony in Rio. National championships take place the last weekend in June, followed two weeks later by U.S. Olympic trials, where the final women's gymnastics squad will be determined. Despite her status as the 2012 Olympic champion, Douglas has to earn her spot on the team just like everyone else.

For a while it seemed to the outside world that she wouldn't be in contention at all. She took a break after London, yet her pace never slowed. She met President Obama at the White House, she walked the red carpet at the Golden Globes, and she was featured in a primetime special as one of Barbara Walters' 10 Most Fascinating People. There were countless sponsorships, magazine covers, a book release and a Lifetime movie, all fueled by her popularity as the youthful, beaming star of the London Games. She also was the first African-American gymnast to win the all-around title, which only increased the adulation and exposure. Her fame provided rare opportunities for athletes with few commercial options beyond the four-year windfall of Olympic gold.

"We both knew we'd come back to the sport," says her 2012 Olympic teammate and fellow gold medalist Aly Raisman, via email from her home in Needham, Massachusetts, where she's staging her own bid for Rio. "We just needed some time away from being exhausted and burnt out after London."

In May 2013, Douglas resumed training with her coach Liang Chow in Des Moines, Iowa. After two attempts to train there-and a stint training near the family's home in Los Angeles in between-Douglas left for good after contractual negotiations fell apart in July 2014, says her mother Natalie Hawkins.

Douglas struggled to find a new coach. The outsized expectations of taking on an Olympic champion deterred many trainers, according to a December 2014 ESPN article. Douglas and her family eventually discovered that Fernando Villa-a coach she'd trained with in LA-had accepted a new job with Buckeye Gymnastics, where Columbus native Nia Dennis-a rising star on the U.S. junior national team-had been training since she was young. Douglas and Dennis had become friends at a camp earlier in 2014, and so Hawkins reached out to the Buckeye staff about a trial training period. The call was met with a mixture of shock and excitement. Carpenter says she sought Dennis' approval first, then accepted. Douglas and her grandmother moved to Westerville so she could begin training.

There were doubters, though. Douglas hadn't competed in two full years, and she'd been mired in limbo. Changing gyms multiple times raised eyebrows. Skeptics wondered if her bid for Rio was just an attempt to remain in the spotlight.

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Mothers and young girls dot the gray wooden bleachers inside Buckeye Gymnastics on this June morning. Most of them appear to be watching their daughters and sisters practicing. A middle-aged woman works on her laptop, oblivious to it all. A little girl eyes the gymnasts on the floor. "Is that Gabby?" she asks in a tiny voice. If Douglas was seeking attention, she hasn't found it here, at least not at the moment.

The younger gymnasts were in awe when she first arrived, Gallardo says, but they're accustomed to her presence now. Early on, some outsiders even tried to "crash the party," Holcomb claims, pointing to a sign that forbids photography and video. Yet, there were no traces of a superstar ego; her coaches call her fun-loving, modest, outgoing, goofy, mellow, giggly-in other words, a normal 20-year-old. The marriage felt comfortable right away, more so than Carpenter expected, and Douglas made Buckeye her permanent home.

"I stayed because everyone was just so welcoming, and everyone-all the girls-we all bond together so well," Douglas says.

She grew closer with Dennis, who eventually became a member of the U.S. senior national team. The program suffered a blow, however, when Dennis parted ways for the Legacy Elite gym in Illinois in July 2015. Douglas remained.

Holcomb has a theory on why she stayed in Westerville. "There's nothing else to do, so she can't be distracted," he says, sharing a laugh with Carpenter. It's certainly not LA, and in addition to the lack of distractions, there's less attention on her. Holcomb's daughters sometimes see Douglas at Polaris mall, walking around unnoticed by other shoppers. "She's just anonymous here and can just be a kid when she's not here in the gym," Holcomb says. He quickly corrects himself-a young woman, not a kid.

He's right to revise his statement. The girl from London is gone. She's more muscular now, and she moves in a way that projects a stronger frame, suggesting more confidence in her body. Near the end of May, Sports Illustrated named Douglas the 16th fittest female athlete in the world.

She's grown a few inches, too, from 4-foot-11 to about 5-foot-2. That's not necessarily good news in a sport that favors diminutive elite athletes, though Carpenter assures that Douglas' added strength helps counterbalance her added height. It's emblematic of the challenges Olympic female gymnasts face in attempting a return to glory. Alicia Sacramone, Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson -the stars of the 2008 Olympics-all came up short in their efforts to even make the U.S. team in 2012, much less to defend their medals. They were 24, 22 and 20, respectively.

Despite its elegant veneer, the sport's punishing physicality tends to truncate the athletic lifespan of its best. "There's not much market for adult gymnastics," Coe says, chuckling. "A little rough on the body." Coe retired after competing on scholarship for Arizona State University, where she earned a degree in nutrition and dietetics. She subsequently consulted for USA Gymnastics and says that athletes are extending their careers through a more holistic approach that includes sports psychologists and improved nutrition. Carpenter and Gallardo add that training methods are smarter now; coaches realize that gymnasts don't have to do 5,000 reps of every skill.

Douglas' popularity further complicates matters-the publicity machine never really stopped. The demanding schedule is the most difficult aspect of training a gymnast of her caliber, Carpenter says. (Her blanket caveat: "I don't think anybody's Gabby's caliber.") She released her own app called Gabbymoji, and she stars in Oxygen network's reality TV show Douglas Family Gold, filmed in part at Buckeye. The series follows her pursuit of the Olympics while her family runs the business and brand of Gabby.

Though filming was fun for Douglas-she smiles broadly and laughs while discussing it-Gallardo says that traveling for media and commercial obligations sometimes cut into her training. At the beginning of May, her coaches and her mother agreed to limit her media access. All eyes are on her, but her eyes must be on Rio.

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Douglas stares down the runway that leads to the vault. "C'mon Gab!" Gallardo calls. "Don't force it. Patience." She sprints toward the vault table and propels herself into the air-a dizzying blur of multicolored nylon-but isn't happy with the result. Again and again she tries to perfect it. She's adding difficulty to her routines on every apparatus, thus increasing her start values within the Olympic scoring system, which has favored more challenging routines in recent years.

She's trying to remain competitive with Simone Biles.

Biles is a 4-foot-9 powder keg in a sparkly leotard. She was born in Columbus but has lived and trained near Houston most of her life. She was too young to compete at the London Games, but she's the reigning three-time world champion and four-time national champion, dominating the 2016 national title event in St. Louis near the end of June. She doesn't have Douglas' mainstream name recognition yet, but she's won enough gold to sink a Spanish galleon. Many prognosticators consider her victory in the individual all-around to be a foregone conclusion. No one is unbeatable, but Biles is as close as they come.

Regardless of the perceived inevitability of Biles, Douglas continues fine-tuning her routines. She's at Buckeye six days a week, typically for more than 30 hours, and today Gallardo and Carpenter give her corrections while replaying cellphone videos of her vaults. She listens, nods, tries again. Despite her natural exuberance, she's quiet in the gym-intense, yet calm. She's consumed with corrections.

Over time, Carpenter has developed the ability to read her eyes, to tell when she's forming a picture in her mind of the sequence she's about to execute. She also makes adjustments instantly rather than the many turns over several weeks it often takes others. "I say she has an Olympic mode," Gallardo boasts. "You tell her the corrections and what she needs, and she just gets it." He snaps his fingers in the air for emphasis. She will need that ability as the Olympic pressure mounts.

Carpenter says the anxiety was actually more intense for World Championships last fall in Glasgow, Scotland. Douglas had finished fifth in the 2015 national championships and needed to prove she was still among the best. She delivered, taking silver before winning the all-around title in the American Cup, in which Biles didn't compete. Douglas also promised that it wouldn't be Carpenter's last trip to Worlds, rattling off the names of Buckeye's talented up-and-coming elites.

"So she not only has them believing," Carpenter says, "she now has me believing along with her that it's all possible-just keep working, you know?" Douglas' presence could bolster Buckeye as a gym worthy of international talent, a fact that doesn't escape the staff.

When asked why Douglas, Dennis and other promising gymnasts came here in the first place, Holcomb motions to Carpenter and mouths-it's her. Carpenter begins to shrug off that notion, but Holcomb interrupts, laughing as usual: "We've worked 30 years for that overnight success."

"And somebody had to be the first one," he continues, discussing Douglas' watershed decision in comparison to past gymnasts who pursued their dreams elsewhere. "She called us. She could've gone anywhere. I think people believe, and that's half the battle. They've got to believe in themselves, they've got to believe in the program, they've got to believe in their coaches, and it's a virtuous circle."

There's more yet at stake for both Douglas and Buckeye. It's one thing to train the former Olympic champion, another entirely for her to return and win gold again.

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In retrospect, it was only a few mistakes. A handstand gone awry, a step out of bounds, a couple slips on the beam. But the mistakes are magnified when everyone is watching. Douglas finished fourth at national championships in St. Louis at the end of June, prompting mild handwringing in the media. On night one of the Olympic trials two weeks later in San Jose, she fell from the beam and landed at seventh. The chorus of worry swelled louder. She fell again on Sunday. TV analysts assured viewers she would make the U.S. Olympic team, but they practically twitched in their seats while the selection committee deliberated. A 12-minute process stretched to 15, then 18, 20, 30.

Finally, Douglas was again named a member of Team USA, and she returned to center stage in San Jose with tears streaming down her face. She joined her equally emotional teammates: Biles, Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian. She's the first individual all-around gold medalist to return to the Games since Nadia Comaneci of Romania in 1980.

Yet she enters Rio on strange footing. She made the team for her multifaceted skills and her expertise in uneven bars-Team USA's weakest event-but it's unclear exactly what her role will be, given her inconsistent performances and the team's deep pool of all-around talent. Most pundits agreed with the decision by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi to pick Douglas over three gymnasts who scored higher at trials, but there were still questions and criticism, which isn't lost on Douglas. "I feel I keep having to prove myself," she says, and then she breaks into her signature boisterous laugh. She's not trying to prove anything to anyone except herself. "But I'm not just going to focus on the negative things-just kind of shut out the world." She waves her hand in the air to shoo it all away. At trials, she had to dismiss speculation that she had made another coaching change when reporters questioned why Carpenter was in the crowd and Gallardo had replaced her on the floor. She's simply more comfortable with Gallardo spotting her, but Karolyi stated publicly she wasn't thrilled with the timing.

Douglas' next chance to prove the full extent of her capabilities-to Karolyi, to doubters, to herself, to whomever-is at the national team training center in Texas, known as Karolyi Ranch. The gymnasts will spend a little over a week refining routines and learning how they will be called upon to compete. Despite Douglas' less than ideal journey, Karolyi has expressed faith in her to perform best when it matters most. She has that Olympic mode, and everyone is waiting for it now.

As Olympic fever mounts, that June morning in Buckeye Gymnastics with only a handful of people watching from the bleachers seems like so long ago. Carpenter, Gallardo and Douglas end the training session just before noon, and Gallardo begins coaching another group of young girls. There are other hopes and dreams in this building, too. Douglas walks to a set of cubby holes where she keeps her belongings. A few teenagers eat lunch nearby and discuss the anxieties of learning to drive on Polaris Parkway. Douglas stands at a slight remove, donning civilian clothes over her leotard. She slips out the door unseen.

No matter her comfort with the limelight, no matter her ambition, these moments of anonymity must be refreshing every now and then-no fanfare, no cameras, not so much as a wave goodbye. Her quiet days are growing scarce; all the world will be watching soon enough.