Gabby Douglas tugged on America's heartstrings when she discussed the rough road of racism and bullying that eventually led her to 2012 Olympics gold. However, those who worked with Douglas at the gymnasium in Virginia have denied Douglas' claims, calling them "hurtful and without merit."
Douglas sat down with Winfrey and told her story on "Oprah's Next Chapter," which aired Sunday on the OWN Network. She explained to the television host that life as a gymnast was not always easy. She told Winfrey about how she was once referred to by another gymnast as her "slave" while training at Excalibur Gymnastics in Virginia Beach.
"I felt being bullied and isolated from the group," Douglas told Winfrey about the alleged racism and bullying at her gym, adding, "Is it because I’m black? Like, those thoughts would go through my mind."
She eventually left the Virginia gym for a gym in Iowa. But now the head of the gym and those who 16-year-old once trained with are denying Douglas' allegations.
"Gabby's remarks were hurtful and without merit," Excalibur Gymnastics CEO Gustavo Maure said in a statement to E! News. "We've had more African Americans in elite and on the national team than any other gym in the country (5, 2 of them in Olympic Trials or Olympic Team Camp). Her African American former teammates will answer this serious accusation. (1st statement untruth, she was not the only African American gymnast training in the gym) We are good people. We never were knowingly involved in any type of bullying or racist treatment, like she is accusing Excalibur."
Multiple gymnasts whom Douglas trained with have also spoken out against her allegations, with some saying that Douglas was not only not a victim, but she was also one of the favorites.
"This is absolutely ridiculous," Randy Stageburg, a former Senior International Elite and National Team member, told GymNewstics.com. "Gabby was never a victim, in fact many would say she was one of the favorites. 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."
Kristina Coccia, a former Senior International Elite, backed up Stageburg's comments, saying: "I know numerous gymnasts who experienced nothing but fantastic memories from Excalibur. Pay back the money you owe, stop playing the victim and respect the coaches who got you to the Elite level. Because the Excalibur family is one that I personally remember during my career. This entire story makes me sick sometimes."
Although her comments on "Oprah's Next Chapter" have been refuted, the teenage gymnast has had to deal with racism in the spotlight.
Douglas' hair was a topic of conversation during the Olympics, but the teen handled the remarks graciously. "I don't know where this is coming from. What's wrong with my hair?" Douglas, who was the first African-American U.S. gymnast to win gold in an all-around competition, previously said. "I'm like, `I just made history and people are focused on my hair?' It can be bald or short, it doesn't matter about (my) hair."
"Oprah's Next Chapter" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on OWN.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said Gabby Douglas was the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in an all-around competition. Douglas was the first African-American U.S. gymnast to conquer such a feat.
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