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Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas’ claims that she was bullied and the target of racism at the Virginia gym where she used to train has sparked a backlash online, with everyone from the facility’s CEO to a former teammate’s mother weighing in.
In an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN show Oprah’s Next Chapter that aired Sunday night, Douglas claimed that she was picked on while training at the Excalibur Gymnastics facility.
“I was just, you know, kind of getting racist jokes, kind of being isolated from the group,” she said. “So it was definitely hard. I would come home at night and just cry my eyes out.”
Among the names she claimed they called her was “slave.”
“One of my teammates was like, ‘Can you scrape the bar?'” she said, as quoted by Yahoo. “And they were like, ‘Why doesn’t Gabby do it, she’s our slave?'”
She added: “I definitely felt isolated. Why am I deserving this? Is it because I’m black?”
Two years ago, Douglas moved to Iowa to train with fellow Olympian Shawn Johnson’s coach.
“I was scared at my old gym to show my potential,” she said, adding: “I was just holding back.”
Several people affiliated with the gym in some way have come forward to deny her claims, including Excalibur CEO Gustavo Maure, who told E! News that Douglas’ allegations aren’t true and were both “hurtful and without merit.”
“Is Gabrielle a credible person just because she is an Olympic champion?” he said. “She is not giving any names or dates, leading us to believe that the accusation is fake. This wouldn’t be the first time that the media has made up a story. Thousands of gymnasts and families have supported our good conduct and our professionalism during the last 30 years.”
Randy Stageburg, a former gymnast who trained at Excalibur, also defended the gym, calling her allegations “sickening.”
“Gabby was never a victim. In fact, many would say she was one of the favorites,” Stageburg told Gymnewstics.com. “I am not saying that she never felt bullied, because when you are in a sport with a bunch of girls, it is bound to happen. However, anything that she may have felt was never about race, and I can assure you everyone at some point has felt bullied. I never once heard her complain about girls being mean — funny how it is just now coming up.”
Kim Hedeland, the mom of one of Douglas’ former teammates, also hit the gym’s Facebook page to defend Excalibur.
“I don’t claim to know everything that happened in the situation with the gym and its gymnast who is now an Olympic athlete, but I do know that my daughter loved her like a sister for 7 years,” she wrote, as quoted by the New York Daily News.
This isn’t the first Douglas-related issue to set off an Internet frenzy. Her hairstyle during the competitions was criticized on Twitter and other sites during the Olympics for being what many complained was too messy.
Said Winfrey: “I thought your hair was cute. I thought, ‘Oh gee, everyone’s doing the same hairdo.'”
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