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Gabrielle Douglas, the Olympic gold-medal gymnast, says she was the target of racist bullying at the gym where she first trained. She revealed the claims to Oprah Winfrey on her OWN show, "Oprah's Next Chapter." The Virginia gym, Excalibur Gymnastics, has fired back, denying the allegations.
Gabrielle -- who says she prefers to be called by her full name, even though her fans call her Gabby -- eventually moved to Iowa to train with Shawn Johnson's Olympic coach. The Olympian told Winfrey in the interview that the girls at the Virginia gym called her a "slave."
Gabrielle recalled, "One of my teammates was like, 'Can you scrape the bar?' And they were like, 'Why doesn't Gabby do it, she's our slave?'" She added, "I definitely felt isolated, I felt 'Why am I deserving this? Is it because I'm black?'"
The 16-year-old said she finally left the gym when she was 14: "I was scared at my old gym to show my potential… I was just holding back."
Responding on the site Gymnewstics.com, Randy Stageburg, a former senior international elite gymnast who trained at Excalibur, said, "The accusations that are being made against the gymnasts and coaches are just sickening."
Stageburg added, "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."
Excalibur Gymnastics CEO Gustavo Maure said in a statement to E! News that Gabrielle is lying. "Is Gabrielle a credible person just because she is an Olympic champion? She is not giving any names or dates, leading us to believe that the accusation is fake," he said. "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."
Gabrielle, who is the first African-American to win the all-around gold medal in women's gymnastics, withstood critiques about her hairstyle, a ponytail, during the competition. The snarky remarks, Winfrey pointed out, started with African-American women.
The talk show host ranted to the teen, "You know why it sickens me? We're the only ones who would care to notice, because the whole world is looking at your athletic prowess, and there are a few naysayers -- haters -- who are on talking about your hair."
Winfrey added, "I thought your hair was cute. I thought, 'Oh gee, everyone's doing the same hairdo.'"