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Virginia gym denies racism claims Gabby Douglas made to Oprah

August 29, 2012|By Chuck Schilken
  • Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas says that as a child she was subjected to bullying at her former training facility.
Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas says that as a child she was subjected… (Julie Jacobson / Associated…)

Gabby Douglas told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that aired Sunday night that she felt bullied at her former training facility in Virginia, and wondered "Is it because I'm black?" She also described an incident in which another athlete at the gym referred to her as a slave.

Now the some people involved with Excaliber Gymnastics in Virginia Beach are stepping forward to defend the gym, its coaches and its athletes.

"Gabby's remarks were hurtful and without merit," CEO and President Gustavo Moure wrote in a statement. "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."

He added: "I wish to defend the children that trained with her and supported her when she attacks them with these allegations. Is Gabrielle a credible person just because she is an Olympic Champion?"

Randy Stageburg, who says she trained with the two-time London Games gold medalist at Excaliber for two years, wrote to GymNewstics.com that "the accusations that are being made against the gymnasts and coaches are just sickening."

"Gabby was never a victim, in fact many would say she was one of the favorites," Stageburg wrote. "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."

Kim Hedeland, the mother of a former Excaliber teammate of Douglas', wrote on the gym's Facebook page:

"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. They were often partnered during training and slept in the same room during travel meets. They attended birthday parties and sleepovers together. ... My daughter says that she was one of her best friends at the gym and was very sad when she left."

The interview with Douglas appeared on OWN's "Oprah's Next Chapter." The gymnast told Winfrey: "I definitely felt isolated. I felt, 'Why am I deserving this? Is it because I'm black?' Those thoughts would go through my mind."

Douglas' mother, Natalie Hawkins, said at one point her daughter considered quitting the sport if she couldn't move and train with another coach. Douglas eventually moved away from her family at age 14 to train in Iowa.

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