LONDON — Too excited to sleep and too early to wander the Olympic village, Gabby Douglas messaged her family and asked if they could have a video chat.
When her mom turned on the computer, there sat her daughter, eyes wide, hands on her cheeks, mouth agape.
“It reminded me of Macaulay Culkin in ‘Home Alone,’ ” said Natalie Hawkins, Douglas’ mother.
And this was before the 16-year-old Olympic all-around champion got her own cereal box cover, hobnobbed with Matt, Al and others at NBC’s “Today” show, and had tweet-happy celebrities eager to be her new BFFs.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Douglas said Friday. “It really hasn’t hit me yet.”
Apparently not. She forgot to bring her gold medal with her for the rounds of meet and greet.
Hang on, kid, this is only the warm-up.
The Olympic all-around title is gymnastics’ biggest prize, and it can turn a sprite into an international superstar overnight. The world is still on a first-name basis with Nadia and Mary Lou, and Gabby could wind up being bigger than both of them.
Adults want to hug her, and little girls shriek at the sight of her. Her smile alone is enough to dazzle Madison Avenue, and her personality gives new meaning to the word “outsized.” Not only is she the first African-American gymnast to win the all-around title, she’s the first to win any individual gold in gymnastics.
Throw in her adorable “Flying Squirrel” nickname, and the back story of leaving home at 14 to pursue an Olympic dream and, guaranteed, her life will never be the same.
“Oh my gosh, yes,” said Mary Lou Retton, whose all-around title in 1984 was the first by a U.S. woman. “She won’t know until she goes home.”
Those around her, though, are already getting a taste of things to come.
Seconds after Douglas beat Viktoria Komova on Thursday, talk show hosts David Letterman and Jay Leno had already contacted her agent. Considering Oprah Winfrey tweeted her congratulations, it’s a safe bet she wants to have a chat with Douglas, too. Kellogg’s worked overtime to get her picture on the cover of a Corn Flakes box — not just any picture, mind you, but a photo of her on the medals stand.
“It’s definitely an amazing experience,” Douglas said.
Especially considering she wasn’t even in the conversation for the all-around title at the start of the year, and that she turned pro in March only after upstaging world champion Jordyn Wieber at the American Cup in New York.
Douglas is well aware that her title carries weight beyond her sport — she wants to be a role model, particularly for minority children.
“She’s going to break barriers on so many different levels,” Retton said.