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Rio Olympics

Douglas being tormented by "bullies", says US gymnast's mum

Olympic gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas has been accused of being unpatriotic on social media and become the unfortunate subject of the hashtag: #CrabbyGabby

Gabby Douglas of the United States looks on during an artistic gymnastics training session on August 4, 2016 at the Arena Olimpica do Rio
Laurence GriffithsGetty Images

Bullies are ruining U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas's Olympic adventure by attacking her appearance, accusing her of being unpatriotic, and by mocking her with a mean-spirited nickname, "Crabby Gabby", on social media, her mother told Reuters.

The 20-year-old athlete has been attacked for a perceived lack of patriotism for not placing her hand over her heart as the U.S. anthem was played during a medal ceremony and for not joining a standing ovation for two team mates.

"What did she ever do to anyone?"

Her mother, Natalie Hawkins, says Douglas is heart-broken. "She's had to deal with people criticising her hair, or people accusing her of bleaching her skin. They said she had breast enhancements, they said she wasn't smiling enough, she's unpatriotic. Then it went to not supporting your team mates. Now you're "Crabby Gabby"," Hawkins said in an interview. "You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?"

For the second Games running, Douglas has found herself  caught in a firestorm despite yet another gold winning performance in Rio. In 2012 Twitter went into overdrive after Douglas became the first African-American gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title. But rather than lauding her excellence, critics rounded on her for the state of her hair during the final.

Gabrielle Douglas (USA) of USA (Gabby Douglas) competes
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Gabrielle Douglas (USA) of USA (Gabby Douglas) competesMIKE BLAKEREUTERS

Four years on and Douglas has another Olympic gold, from the women's team competition, but the sheen from that victory has also been tarnished after TV cameras showed her standing to attention during the national anthem.

"I don't think respecting your country or your flag boils down to whether you put your hand over your heart or not," Hawkins said. 

But Tuesday's furore over what the correct protocol is when the American flag is raised was neither the beginning nor the end of Douglas' problems. She was also criticised for not giving team mates Simone Biles and Aly Raisman a standing ovation when they claimed gold and silver in Thursday's all around final.

"#CrabbyGabby" trends on Twitter

With accusations that Douglas was angry and jealous at being denied a place in the final, since rules state only the top two performers from each country can progress to the final, CrabbyGabby started trending on social media.

"We've been brought to many tears because I don't know what she's done to warrant such an attack. To me it looks like she is being bullied," said Hawkins.

All this unwanted attention on her daughter has been painful for Hawkins to watch. Despite being in Rio to cheer on Douglas, she is unable to give her a comforting hug because of team rules limiting contact to phone calls and texts until they are done competing.

Hawkins says she has advised her daughter to stay offline and instead focus on competing in Sunday's asymmetric bars final. "Gabrielle's had her heart broken, but she's determined she will go out (on Sunday) and she knows she still has a job to do for Team USA. It's a huge honour for me to be her mother as she's the bravest person I know."