Is Gabby Douglas as marketable as Michael Phelps?

With praise from Beyonce and Oprah, and millions in endorsement deals likely headed her way, America's gold-medal gymnast could become a new icon of capitalism

Gabby Douglas
(Image credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Team USA's Gabby Douglas took home the gold in the gymnastics women's all-around Thursday, beating teammate Aly Raisman and Russia's formidable twosome of Victoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina (who took home silver and bronze, respectively). The explosive 16-year-old became not only the first African-American female gymnast to earn the all-around title, but also the first U.S. competitor to snare Olympic gold in both team and individual competition in the same year. Now, everyone from Beyonce to Oprah is piling on praise, and Kellogg's has already promised "The Flying Squirrel" her own cereal box cover. But will the charismatic teen prove as big a draw for advertisers as Beijing's golden child, Michael Phelps? Here's what you should know about the young woman's remarkable underdog story:

What's her story?

Just two years ago, Douglas was far from a lock for the Olympic team, and almost gave up the dream. The then-14-year-old, the daughter of a struggling single mom, had just packed up her things to move to West Des Moines, Iowa — 1,200 miles away from her home and family in Virginia Beach, Va. There, she settled in with a white host family she'd never met who offered to take her when they found out she couldn't afford housing. According to reports, Douglas had caught the eye of U.S.-based Chinese coach Liang Chow, who helped her "skyrocket from an average member of the national team to the top of the sport," says Juliet Macur at the New York Times. Douglas remembers thinking that "she must be the only black person in the state." "I was unpacking and saying, 'Holy cow, what am I doing?'' said Douglas. "I'd wake up and say, 'This isn't my bed set, where am I?'"

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Why was she considered a longshot?

Though the Twilight-loving, rap-music-listening teenager is technically strong in all four events, she was widely seen as an underdog and a "headcase," says Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic Wire, thanks to her inconsistent performances under pressure, especially on the balance beam. (At the 2011 Visa Championships in Minnesota, for example, Douglas fell off the balance beam three times.) Following a less-than-stellar outing at the Pacific Rim Championships, she almost beat champion Jordyn Wieber at Nationals in 2012, and then went on to win the Olympic trials. Things changed when the Games actually started, and she began winning fans over with her powerful flips and infectiously bright smile. "On the first day of competition in London, she leaped out of bounds on her floor exercise," says Dvora Meyers at Deadspin. "She hasn't made a mistake since."

How marketable is she?

She's building a fan-base fast. On Thursday night alone, Douglas amassed 50,000 new followers on Twitter — and that number keeps climbing. The bubbly 16-year-old seems poised to shatter the stereotype of "the steely-eyed, ultra-focused gymnast who grew up in isolation while working toward an Olympic dream," says Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo. Now, Douglas is set to "strike it rich with product endorsements," says Stephen Smith at CBS News, and could earn 1 to 3 million dollars annually between now and and the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. Kellogg's promised to put the gymnast on a Corn Flakes box just hours after stepping off the podium. The last Olympian to be extended such an offer that quickly? Michael Phelps in 2008.

What kind of advertisements could she do?

"Her fresh face is perfect for a cosmetics deal, her infectious smile could sell toothpaste, and her nickname — The Flying Squirrel — is ideal for any airline," Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising tells Bloomberg Businessweek, adding, "Ka-ching!" "She brings so many intangibles that marketers look for. She's young. She's fresh. She's a new face," says media consultant Joe Favorito. "The sky is the limit." Gabby really is "that great American success story," says Peter Shankman, founder of the Geek Factory marketing firm in New York. "As soon as she won, she put her hand on her heart. How can that photo not be on the back page of every paper in America?"

Sources: The Atlantic Wire, Bloomberg Businessweek, CBS News, Deadspin, MTV News, New York Times, Yahoo

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