Gabby Douglas' Former Gym Denies Claims Of Bullying
U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, 16, who won the gold medal for the women's all-around competition at the 2012 London games, recently spoke out to Oprah Winfrey, 58, on the new OWN show, Oprah's Next Chapter, about how her road to the Olympics was often a rocky one — and not just due to the physical challenges.
"I was just, you know, kind of getting racist jokes, kind of being isolated from the group. So it was definitely hard. I would come home at night and just cry my eyes out," Douglas told Oprah about her experience at Excalibur Gymnastics in Virginia Beach.
The hardest thing about the bullying that Douglas claims to have undergone was racism. "One of my teammates was like, 'Could you scrape the bar?'" Douglas remembers from her time training at the gym. "And they were like, 'Why doesn't Gabby do it, she's our slave?"
Douglas was joined by her mother, Natalie Hawkins, when she spoke out to Oprah about her experience. "She said, 'I'd rather quit — if I can't move and train and get another coach, I'd rather quit the sport," revealed Hawkins about Douglas' struggles just two years ago, when she had reportedly had enough of the treatment. So Douglas moved to Iowa to train with a new coach.
In the meantime, the head of Douglas' former gym is hopping mad about the comments. "Gabby's remarks were hurtful and without merit," said Excalibur Gymnastics CEO Gustavo Maure in a statement, reports E! Online. "We've had more African Americans in elite and on the national team than any other gym in the country."
Maure went on to say that it was untrue that Douglas was the only African American gymnast at the gym during her tenure there. "We are good people. We never were knowingly involved in any type of bullying or racist treatment, like she is accusing Excalibur."
Other gymnasts also jumped to the gym's defense. "I watched [head coach Dena Walker] and Gustavo put so much of their time and effort into Gabby and the other athletes, no matter their race," gymnast Randy Stageberg wrote to GymNewstics.com. "Gabby was never a victim, in fact many would say she was one of the favorites," Stageberg continued. "I am not saying that she never felt bullied because when you are in a sport with a bunch of girls it is bond [sic] 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."
Many of Douglas' supporters are pointing out that just because Douglas experienced racism doesn't mean that it was sanctioned by the gym, thus making their defensiveness uncalled for. "I find it really gross that a gym run by, apparently adults, would come out of the gate and defame and publicly ridicule a 16-year-old young woman for speaking of her experiences with other female gymnasts," wrote one supporter on Excalibur's page.
Watch the Oprah interview with U.S. Olympic gold-medalist Gabby Douglas here:
For more on Gabby Douglas and the 2012 London Olympics: