Gabby Douglas responds to criticism: 'I apologize'

Gabby Douglas won the gold medal in the individual all-around event at the London Olympics in 2012, becoming the first African-American woman to win the event.

She garnered multiple endorsements, appearing on boxes of Kellogg's cereal, in an ad campaign for Super Mario Bros. and at the MTV Video Music Awards as part of a live performance by Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj. Douglas released an autobiography and a reality television show on Oxygen.

She was an American favorite -- a girl on fire.

But Douglas hasn't been revered in the same way this year.

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Critics pointed out Douglas' "lackluster" celebration after teammates Simone Biles and Aly Raisman won medals, and she received backlash when photos showed that she didn't put her hand over her heart during the national anthem.

"First I get, 'You’ve been a good sport,' and then they turn on you," Douglas said. "But it was hurtful, and it was kind of a lot to deal with. You have to stay away from that, but everything I had to go through, and everything I’ve gone through has been a lot this time around."

The 20-year-old Virginia native has been the subject of ridicule before. In 2012, critics trolled her appearance, saying her hair was unkempt.

"I read certain comments, and I’m like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, that is far from me and far from my personality,'" Douglas said. "And people just attacking you and your hair, blah, blah, blah. I mean, did I choose my hair texture? No. And I’m actually grateful, you know, having this hair on my head."

This year, Douglas finished seventh out of eight in the uneven bars. She received a gold medal in the team competition, adding to her collection from four years ago. Simone Biles, who won gold in the individual all-around and in the women's vault, joined Douglas as the only other American all-around champion to win multiple gold medals in a single Olympic Games.

"When they talk about my hair or me not putting my hand up on my heart or me being very salty in the stands, they're really criticizing me, and it doesn't really feel good," Douglas told reporters Sunday with tears in her eyes. "It was a little bit hurtful."

Douglas said she avoided the internet in Rio because of the "negativity" she had seen and heard.

"I mean, you do (the Olympics) for your country, and you do it for yourself, and you do it for other people … and I step back and I’m like, 'Wait, what did I do to disrespect the people? How have I offended them? What have I done?' When I stand back, I’m like, 'What? I was standing in respect for USA. I’m coming out there representing them to the best of my abilities, so how would I be in disrespect?'

"I apologize if what may have ... seemed to be me really mad in the stands. I wasn't. I was supporting Aly, and I always will support them and respect them and everything that they do. So 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, and I should have. But for me, it's just like, it's been a lot. And I've been through a lot. But I still love them. I still love the people who love me, still love them who hate me, and I'm just going to stand on that."

Douglas said her second Olympic experience was "an amazing, crazy, also fun, experience."

"You always want to picture yourself being on top and doing those routines and being amazing," she  said. "I pictured it differently, but that's OK because I'm just going to take this experience as a really good, positive one.

"For me, when you go through a lot, and you have so many difficulties and people (are) against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character. Are you going to stand, or are you going to crumble? In the face of everything, still stand. I have no regrets coming back for a second Olympics. It's been an amazing experience.  It's teaching me so much."

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