- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

LONDON — A giddy Gabby Douglas offered a stream of words at her mile-a-minute best.

“A lot of hard work, a lot of passion,” she said, “a lot of sacrifices and determination.”

That’s how the tiny American teen from Virginia Beach described just what it took to win Olympic team gold in gymnastics.

Now she’s aiming for more: another gold in the all-around competition Thursday.

Suddenly it’s her shot on the biggest stage. U.S. teammate Jordyn Wieber, the onetime favorite and defending world champion, missed out with a mistake-filled performance in qualifying.

The 4-foot-11 Douglas and another American, Aly Raisman, will try to hold off Russia’s Viktoria Komova and keep the remarkable run going for USA Gymnastics.

“Man, I feel amazing right now,” Douglas said. “It just feels amazing to be the 2012 Olympic champion.”

Shortly after Tuesday’s victory gave the Americans their first team gold since the “Magnificent Seven” of the 1996 Atlanta Games, coaching icons Bela and Marta Karolyi stole a rare quiet moment alone. The couple stood separated by a metal barrier, eyes locked, holding each other’s arms.

Whatever happens next in these Olympics, Bela told his wife, the U.S. had already won big — again, at last. Then he leaned over the gate to embrace Marta and give her a kiss.

Both know there are plenty more Olympic medals to be had, and the Americans would love to head home with a heap of hardware.

Winning as a team certainly has them on the right track.

“It is very special. It gives us the momentum,” Douglas said. “It keeps going, it keeps flowing. It gives us, definitely, a little bit of an edge thinking that we are truly the best in the world. It gives us that little bit of a push.”

Douglas and Raisman have a busy schedule ahead in the individual finals, too — Douglas on balance beam and uneven bars, Raisman on beam and floor exercise.

“It definitely gives you a little bit of confidence,” vault finalist McKayla Maroney said, referring to the Americans’ mindset as they prepare for the rest of the Olympic schedule. “Now we are Olympic champions. It’s awesome.”

Douglas insists she never doubted that the U.S. brought the world’s top female gymnasts to London. And others now agree — this might just be the best American women’s Olympics squad ever.

Douglas was third in the qualifying round behind the second-place Raisman. Russia’s Komova, who finished runner-up to Wieber at last year’s world championships, had the top score.

Ukraine’s Lilia Podkopayeva was the last reigning world champion to win Olympic gold, in ‘96. With Wieber out of the mix, it’s not going to happen here. Wieber wept after her qualifying flop, then regrouped to help the Americans win team gold.

On Thursday, she’ll be in the strange position of cheerleader instead of competitor. Perhaps watching her teammates and close friends reach the podium will take some of the sting away.