When America’s finest gymnasts vault into town Thursday night, Gabby Douglas will take a long look around the Spokane Arena.
Somewhere in the stands, there might be another wide-eyed young girl – much like Douglas herself just 12 years ago as she watched the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
“That was me … I was watching on TV and I said to my mom, ‘I can do that!’ ” said Douglas, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and part of the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions that begins Thursday night in Spokane.
Now Douglas is passing the torch – not the Olympic torch that was extinguished last month in Rio, but the figurative one that hopefully will carry America’s winning tradition to 2020 and beyond.
Beyond that, the Kellogg’s tour gives fans in 36 cities a chance to see their Olympic heroes up close. “Just seeing the crowd’s faces, that’s awesome,” said Douglas, the all-around Olympic champion in 2012 and a member of this year’s gold medal-winning team.
Some faces will be missing. “No judges!” Douglas exclaimed, her enthusiasm pulsing through the phone line during a recent interview.
However, fans are sure to give high marks Thursday night. Some of the athletes from the women’s, men’s, rhythmic and acrobatic teams will perform a variety of routines in an exhibition-style format that channels the Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas.
That means more freedom for the gymnasts, who won’t be bound by the formulaic, skills-packed routines that were honed for months leading up to the Olympics.
Instead they’ll perform lively, choreographed routines to upbeat music, using the beam, bars, vault, rings and floor, along with aerial hoops, silks and other implements.
Said Douglas, “There will be a lot of dancing. For me the steps and the choreography are more difficult, but a lot of fun.”
During some moments, multiple athletes might be on the same apparatus.
“It’s so far from being a competition; it’s just designed to be a crowd-pleaser,” says Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport.
Because of their busy post-Rio tours, the athletes have been cramming to practice their roles for the upcoming tour.
“They’re quick studies — they know what to expect and how to pull routines together,” Penny says. “Once they get to rehearsal, they just see what they need to do and pick it up really quick.”