A star is born ... Gabby Douglas competes in the balance beam.

A star is born ... Gabby Douglas competes in the balance beam. Photo: Reuters

AMERICA'S latest sporting darling is not afraid of the limelight. Gabby Douglas, the 16-year-old from Virginia who won double gymnastics gold in London and with it the hearts of millions in the US, does not have time to be hanging around for the Olympics closing ceremony.

Instead, she will head home to hit the talk show circuit, and, given she is just as competent in front of a microphone as she is on the floor and vault, she is certain to be a hit.

Everyone just says they love my smile so why not use it on the floor? I was kind of America's sweetheart leading into the Games and it made me feel so good that America loved me 

Douglas's face is already on cereal packets across the US, and she has won, among others, the adulation of Serena Williams, who watched her every move at the Games after herself winning a pair of gold medals at Wimbledon. A delightful mix of swagger and teenage innocence, London is surely only just the start.

Gabrielle Douglas of the US performs her floor exercise during the women's individual all-around gymnastics final. She wins gold. Click for more photos

Defying gravity

Gabrielle Douglas of the US performs her floor exercise during the women's individual all-around gymnastics final. She wins gold. Photo: Reuters

So how does she feel about being America's new sweetheart? Well, pretty good actually.

"I think it sits very well," Douglas said on Thursday. "It's definitely fitting because everyone just says they love my smile so why not use it on the floor? I was kind of America's sweetheart leading into the Games and it made me feel so good that America loved me."

Douglas has had just about every fragment of her life dissected by an obsessed media as a result of her performance here, where she became the first African-American woman to win the individual all-round competition.

There has been contention about the role of her father, a US Air Force sergeant regularly stationed abroad, in her upbringing, down to remarks about her hair. All of a sudden she is the new face of the sport, and even the likes of Williams can not get enough of her.

"Serena Williams is definitely a big fan of me and I'm definitely a big fan of hers," Douglas said. "There are very few coloured athletes in this sport. To go down in history to be the first African-American to win a gold ... I think more coloured people are going to start coming to the gymnastics world and saying, 'If Gabby can do it, I can do it'. I've always wanted to inspire people. At the Olympics you see this quote 'Inspire a generation'. I can check that off my bucket list.

"I wasn't the richest girl on the block. None of my friends were like, 'Look, I've got new ugg boots', and 'Look, my mum and dad bought this car'. My family kind of struggled over the past years. It was kind of hard at times."

Amid all this exposure it is worth reminding that Douglas is 16. She may be the centre of attention now but in the athletes' village she was simply happy to rub shoulders with the great and mighty. It reminded her of school.

"The [US] swimmers were like 'OK, when you're done with competition you guys can come over and sit with us," she said. "We were just like in awe: 'The swimmers have invited us to their table'. It's like high school, the popularity police have invited us."

The invitations are coming in thick and fast now. Bring on Letterman and all the rest. Douglas's victory lap in the US will be a charm offensive.

"Life is going to change for me in a big way. I'm going to get home and there is going to be so many fans," she said. "It's going to change in a big way."