In 1948, Herb Douglas took bronze in the long jump. Sixty-four years later, another Douglas had success on the Olympic stage. Gymnasist Gabrielle Douglas earned gold medals in both the team and individual all-around competitions, becoming the first African American to accomplish the feat. Both the youngest and oldest African-American Olympic medalists joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: I’ve read that the two of you have joked about possibly being related. Gabrielle, have you turned up any evidence of a connection beyond Olympic glory?
GD: I have not, and I think it would be cool if we could just do a little test to see if we’re related because our last names are both Douglas, so I think it would be really cool.
BL: You’ve got the athletic ability in common, anyway, no question about that.
GD: No question about that.
BL: Were you aware of Mr. Douglas’s accomplishments at the 1948 Games before reporters began making comparison between the two of you?
GD: I was not aware. I was kind of in the gym 24/7, and in London I was kind of boxed in. And the first time I met him was at one of the stops at the Kellogg’s tour when he came up to me, and he told me who he was, and I was in awe. And we took a picture together, and it was definitely phenomenal.
BL: Mr. Douglas, I understand that you were very impressed by Gabby’s performance in the London Olympics, as were we all. Besides the fact that she and her gymnastics teammates left town wearing medals, what caught your attention?
HD: Well, I’m very proud of that young lady. Last year was a high point of my life. I had a birthday party — 90 years old — I met President Obama, and he said, “I was standing on your shoulders.” And then when I met this young lady, this was the epitome. I thought she was really, both on the field and off the field, a tribute, not only to her mother, who really sacrificed and did so much for her, and for her to stand up on that podium and win an individual gold medal, I thought it was one of the greatest things that I’ve ever witnessed.
BL: Is it fair to say that Gabby Douglas got a lot more attention for winning her medals than you did for winning your medal? Or were you surrounded by journalists and did your likeness appear on a cereal box after the ’48 games?
HD: Now that’s pretty obvious, no. Even our icon athletes during that time, such as Harrison Dillard who won two gold medals and Mal Whitfield who won a total of three medals, none of them. When we came back, we had to get a job, and there were very few jobs for us of color.
BL: Gabby, you’re an Olympic champion something of a celebrity, the author of a new book, but I understand that when you and Mr. Douglas had dinner recently at the invitation of Sports Illustrated, he had some advice regarding your future. What was that?
GD: Well first of all it was so nice to meet him. A couple months ago we had dinner together, compared medals, and shared stories. It was such a great experience. I’m so thankful for his accomplishments because I stand on his shoulders, of his generation. But, yeah, he was telling me to look into college and see what I want to study for and just do what I love and just enjoy it. And he was just telling me to stay humble and just keep my same personality.
BL: Have you got a future plan in terms of college. Have you thought about that?
GD: I have thought about college, but I don’t know. We’ll see.