Rio 2016: Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas “heartbroken” over online bullying

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Kayleigh Dray
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US athlete Gabby Douglas has, once again, been targeted by social media trolls.

In 2012, she became the first African-American gymnast to to win the all-around gold medal.

Twitter quickly went into overdrive – but, rather than focusing on Douglas’ achievement, a number of people commented on the state of her hair during the final.

Speaking to the Associated Press at the time, Douglas fired back: “What’s wrong with my hair? I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair? It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.

“Nothing is going to change. I’m going to wear my hair like this during beam and bar finals. You might as well stop talking about it.”

Unfortunately it seems as if her words have had little effect on her abusers, as now, four years later, social media users bullies have attacked the talented athlete again.

“Who let Gabby Douglas out the house with her hair looking like that?” tweeted one.

Another added: “Gabby Douglas is pretty AF but her hair…”

Douglas who, along with her “final five” team won gold in the women’s team all-around, was also accused of being "unpatriotic", after viewers noticed that the 20-year-old did not stand and place her hand over her heart as the US national anthem was played.

Now, speaking to Reuters, Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, explained that her daughter had been left “heartbroken” by the abuse.

"She's had to deal with people criticizing her hair, or people accusing her of bleaching her skin,” she said.

“They said she had breast enhancements, they said she wasn't smiling enough, she's unpatriotic…

“You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?”

Hawkins continued: "I don't think respecting your country or your flag boils down to whether you put your hand over your heart or not… it’s in your actions towards your country, how well you are abiding to its laws, how well you are helping your fellow citizens.”

Douglas has also been labelled as #CrabbyGabby after she did not give her teammates Simone Biles and Aly Raisman a standing ovation when they claimed their gold and silver medals last week.

Some critics insist that the gymnast was “angry” and “jealous” – a claim which her mother strongly denies.

Above: Gabby Douglas pens a congratulatory tweet to her teammates after they win gold and silver at Rio 2016

"What was going through her head was 'I'm being attacked for everything I do so I might as well not do anything. Because no matter what I do, I am being attacked',” she said.

Hawkins added that both she and her daughter had been left “heartbroken” by the barrage of criticism on social media abuse, and that they had cried “many tears” together over the harsh reaction at this year’s Olympics.

“I don't know what she's done to warrant such an attack. To me it looks like she is being bullied,” she said, before explaining that, while she doesn’t want to believe that her daughter is being attacked because of her race, she is finding it more and more difficult to do so.

“When I go on Twitter, I can't help but see that all the blacks are saying: 'was it just the white people that are saying this against us?'

"Maybe people are very frustrated. Our country has a lot of unrest and turmoil recently and people are frustrated and maybe they just want to vent and they just see someone innocent ... and bully them."

Watch: Gabrielle Douglas’ gold-winning performance at the London 2012 Olympic Games

Douglas finished seventh out of eight during Sunday’s uneven bars final, after a small flub on her opening handstand.

The mistake earned her a score of 15.066, just a few points below the 15.776 she needed to qualify.

Yet, despite everything she has endured, the gold medallist has sent a strong message to her army of critics.

“For me, when you go through a lot and you have so many difficulties and people against you, sometimes it just determines your character,” she said.

“Are you going to stand or are you going to crumble? In the face of everything, still stand.”

Image: Rex Features