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Gabby Douglas Hits Back at 'Hurtful' Social Media Bullying at Rio Olympics

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Gabby Douglas has responded to the social media criticism that has plagued her during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The 20-year-old hoped to defend her 2012 all-around title at this year’s Games, but the seemingly non-stop backlash she received online was just as fierce as the competition in her sport.

“When they talk about my hair or me not putting my hand on my heart or me being very salty in the stands, they’re really criticizing me,” Douglas told reporters on Sunday. “It doesn’t really feel good. It was a little bit hurtful.”

Douglas finished seventh in the uneven bars on Sunday and held back tears when answering questions about her lackluster performance and the backlash she’s received at every turn.

“In my head, I pictured it a little bit differently,” she said of her individual event. “You want to picture yourself being on top and doing amazing gymnastics.”

Gabby Douglas
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty

Last week, the two-time Olympian was called “unpatriotic” by some online critics after she didn’t place her hand over her heart when the “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played after Team USA won the all-around finals.

She found herself the subject of some not-so-kind words soon after for appearing to not support her teammates Aly Raisman and Simone Biles when they won silver and gold respectively during all-around individual finals – Raisman said later that Douglas was very supportive back at their Olympic Village dorm.

“Everything I’ve gone through has been a lot this time around,” Douglas said, “and I apologize if [I seemed] really mad in the stands. I wasn’t. I was supporting Aly. And I always will support them and respect them in everything they do. I never want anyone to take it as I was jealous or I wanted attention. Never. I support them, and I’m sorry that I wasn’t showing it.”

“I’ve been through a lot,” she added. “I still love them. I still love the people who love me. Still love them who hate me. I’m just going to stand on that.”

Although many have criticized the athlete, a slew of social media users have sent well-wishes and supportive messages Douglas’ way using the hashtag “#LOVE4GABBYUSA.”

“Yo I just heard Gabby getting attacked on her page show her the love you showed me #LOVE4GABBYUSA send to @gabrielledoug, Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones tweeted, referring to her own recent battle with Twitter trolls.

Another Twitter user wrote: “You are amazing, we are so proud of you (big hug) @gabrielledoug #LOVE4GABBYUSA #TeamUSA.”

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The criticism even prompted Douglas’ mother to come to her defense.

“You name it and she got trampled,” Natalie Hawkins said of her daughter. “What did she ever do to anyone?”

Despite all of the controversy, Douglas described her time in Rio as “an amazing, crazy – also fun – experience.”

“I’m just going to take this experience as a really good, positive one,” she told reporters.

While Douglas’ time at the Games may not have matched her history-making trip to London in 2012, her younger teammates have added to their Olympic medal haul.

Biles, 19, has captured three gold medals, becoming the first American woman to become a champion in the vault event. Along with their gold medals in the all-around finals, Raisman and Madison Kocian won silver at the Games.