Gabby Douglas, the first African-American to win the all-around Olympic gymnastics title in London, was chosen The Associated Press female athlete of the year on Friday in a vote by U.S. editors and news directors.
Douglas received 48 of 157 votes, seven more than American swimmer Missy Franklin, who won four gold medals and a bronze in London. Serena Williams, who won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the London Games two years after her career was nearly derailed by health problems, was third with 24 votes.
Britney Griner, who led Baylor University to a 40-0 record and the women's U.S. college basketball title, and American skier Lindsey Vonn each got 18 votes.
Douglas is the fourth gymnast to win one of the AP's annual awards, which began in 1931, and first since Mary Lou Retton in 1984.
She wasn't even in the conversation for the Olympic title at the beginning of the year. That all changed in March when she upstaged world champion and teammate Jordyn Wieber at the American Cup in New York, showing off a new vault, an ungraded uneven bars routine and a dazzling personality.
She finished a close second to Wieber at the U.S. championships, then beat her two weeks later at the Olympic trials. With each competition, her confidence grew. So did that smile.
By the time the Americans got to London, Douglas had emerged as the most consistent gymnast on what was arguably the best team the U.S. has ever had.
She posted the team's highest score on all but one event in qualifying. She was the only gymnast to compete in all four events during team finals, when the Americans beat the Russians in a rout for their second Olympic title, and first since 1996. Two nights later, Douglas claimed the grandest prize of all.
Her autobiography, "Grace, Gold and Glory," is No. 4 on the New York Times' young adult list. She, Wieber and teammates Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney recently wrapped up a 40-city gymnastics tour. She met President Barack Obama last month. She turns 17 on Dec. 31.
Though her busy schedule hasn't left time to train, Douglas insists she still intends to compete through to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.
No Olympic champion has gone on to compete at the next Summer Games, but Douglas is still a relative newcomer to the elite scene - she'd competed in only four international events before the Olympics - and coach Liang Chow has said she hasn't come close to reaching her full potential. She keeps up with Chow through email and text messages, and plans to return to Iowa from her Virginia home after her schedule clears up in the spring.
Of course, plenty of other athletes have said similar things and never made it back to the gym. But Douglas is determined, and she gets giddy just talking about getting a new floor routine.
"I think there's even higher bars to set," she said.
Because while being an Olympic champion may have changed her life, it hasn't changed her.
"I may be meeting cool celebrities and I'm getting amazing opportunities," she said. "But I'm still the same Gabby."