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Gymnast Gabby Douglas eager to prove she's still golden

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Olympic champion Gabby Douglas insists she can prove her critics wrong and win back-to-back gymnastics gold at the Rio Olympics despite the doubters and the challenge of US teammate Simone Biles.

Douglas's story was one of the most compelling of the 2012 Games when the tiny 16-year-old became the first African-American to win all-around gold and then helped the United States to the women's team title.

A lot has changed for the gymnast from Ohio in the four years since London.

Douglas, now 20, became an overnight global idol with big sponsorship deals, television appearances, an autobiography -- "Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith" -- followed by a Lifetime biopic, "The Gabby Douglas Story".

Already assured her place in history she could have comfortably retired from sport.

Instead she becomes the first reigning all-around gold medallist to return to the next Games since Nadia Comaneci in 1980.

Comaneci took silver then, but Douglas believes she can recapture gold despite her struggles during US trials where she was controversially selected despite finishing seventh overall.

"Everybody makes mistakes. I didn't give it my best shot at trials. There was a lot of negativity afterwards," said Douglas.

"I had to put it all away. Mentally I feel in a much better spot now.

"No matter who doubts you, always just go for it and always push yourself and don't listen to negativity, don't listen to that because they shouldn't determine your talent."

Douglas took time off after London, but returned for worlds last October where she took silver behind Biles, 19, who has dominated women's gymnastics since 2012.

"When I came back I was just so excited because I missed gymnastics and I was like 'Whoa' I want to do stuff. I had to kind of ease back into it but after that it was fine," said Douglas.

US gymnastics national team coordinator Marta Karolyi's faith in her ability has helped.

"The feeling that she believes in me. Marta saying 'you can do it, go for it!' really helps a lot.

"I'm just going to enjoy every moment and give it all I've got this time around. I'm just going to push it.

"The Olympics is just something so special, you get to come out here and shine bright and really show everyone what you're made of."

Karolyi believes Douglas could succeed in her ambition to become just the third woman to successfully defend her all-around title.

"Gabby needs a lot of organised structure," said the veteran coach. "She reacts very good to that. Training together, eating together. I think she's made great progress because of the atmosphere on the team.

"The biggest accomplishment is that she feels confident."

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