Gabrielle Douglas caused controversy after she confessed to Oprah Winfrey that she was bullied during her early training at a gym in Virginia Beach, Va. She said, "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."
Randy Stageburg, a former Senior International Elite and National Team member who once trained with Gabby at Excalibur Gymnastics, called the accusation ridiculous and sickening. "I watched [head coaches] dena and Gustavo put so much of their time and effort into gabby and the other athletes, no matter their race," she posted on GymNewstics.
"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 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. Also, not only does she owe the gym thousands of dollars but she owes dena thousands as well," she said, before mentioning other African-American gymnasts who "have nothing but great things to say about their experience at Excalibur."
Another former Senior International Elite, Kristina Coccia, agreed with Randy. "I've had the pleasure of knowing the Excalibur coaches for many years- never once would I question their coaching or love for their athletes. In fact, Dena and Jim were the first coaches to congratulate other athletes, as well as their own," she said in defense of the coaches.
"While I wasn't personally coached by Jim, Dena or Gustavo- what Gabby is saying makes me sick. 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," she continued.
Some of the readers were not really impressed by the Elites' reaction. One wrote, "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."
Another blasted it, "The fact that they're being so defensive and attacking a sixteen years old girl over money and calling her a liar indicates there's probably some truth to Gabby's allegations. She wasn't even attacking the owners but her 'peers'."
Indeed, Gabby never mentioned anything about getting tormented by her coaches. "One of my teammates was like, 'Could you scrape the bar?' " she recalled. "And they were like, 'Why doesn't Gabby do it, she's our slave?' " She continued, "I definitely felt isolated. Why am I deserving this? Is it because I'm black? - those thoughts were going through my mind."
Gabby's mother, Natalie Hawkins, said on "Oprah's Next Chapter" she almost quit her dream in sport due to the constant bullying. "She said, 'I'd rather quit - if I can't move and train and get another coach, I'd rather quit the sport'," Natalie opened up. So, they moved to Iowa where Gabby started training in a new gym.
A mother of Gabby's former friend at Excalibur posted on Facebook a picture of the gold medalist with her daughter. "I don't claim to know everything that happened in the situation with the gym and 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.
"They were often partnered during training and slept in the same room during travel meets. They attended birthday parties and sleepovers togethor (sic). My husband and I saw her mom prior to the trip to London and made a small donation to contribute to travel expenses," she concludes. "My daughter says that she was one of her best friends at the gym and was very sad when she left..."