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Gabby Douglas Reflects On Her Rio Critics: ‘It Didn’t Ruin My Experience, But It Made It Harder’

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Hal Horowitz

Despite her online critics’ best attempts, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas says that any social media backlash didn’t cast a complete cloud over her experience at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“It definitely didn’t ruin my Olympic experience, but I’d say it made it a little bit harder,” Douglas told PEOPLE at the 12th Annual Orthopedic Foundation Gala, where she was honored with the Spirit of an Active Lifestyle award.

Going into Rio, Douglas said that while her veteran status offered her some extra confidence, the pressure was still on.

“I knew what to expect and the experience in 2012 definitely helped me,” she said. “But at the same time, there’s a lot of pressure, because I have to do well and match what I did in 2012.”

The backlash and pressure weren’t the only hurdles the three-time gold medalist overcame during her second Olympic games: She also narrowly missed out on the chance to defend her individual all-around gold medal, which she won in 2012. (Though Douglas came in third overall in the qualifying round, rules limit the number of participants in a final from each country.)

“That was devastating to me,” she said. “And then when I got a lot of backlash, that was even more devastating.”

Her own recent experiences, as well as what she’s seen on social media, prompted her to take to Instagram to remind everyone to be nice, pursue love and take the hate elsewhere.

“That was really from my heart,” she said of her post, which was also shared by her two-time Olympic teammate, Aly Raisman. “Let’s all just build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Let’s pursue love instead of hate.”

Douglas said she felt the criticism in Rio came out of nowhere.

“I was caught off-guard,” she added. “But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to move on.”

And move on she has: Douglas hasn’t stopped since returning home from South America. She made a whirlwind visit to New York City with her Final Five teammates, underwent surgery on her mouth and had her wisdom teeth out (she’s all better now!), attended the CMAs, judged the Miss America pageant and traveled across the country for the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics, which wrapped last week.

Now Douglas is looking forward to a little relaxation. She has a family vacation to Tahiti coming up, and plans to take an extended break before getting back on the mat. And though she won’t be spending every day with her teammates anymore, she said she’s sure they’ll be seeing each other again soon.

“I’m really excited that [the tour] is over, because it’s a crazy schedule,” she said. “I’m excited to get back home.”

As for the big question — whether or not she’ll try for Tokyo in 2020 — it’s still TBD. 

“We’ll see, it’s still so early,” Douglas said — and her teammates feel the same. “We want to just enjoy this time.”