Carlotta Ferlito, the Italian gymnast whose remarks about U.S. competitor Simone Biles stoked racial flames earlier this month, apologized last week but the fallout from her comments has not yet settled.
Ferlito, frustrated by her 11th place all-around finish at the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, on Oct. 6, gave her own explanation as to why Biles, the 16-year-old American phenom, finished first.
"I told Vanny [teammate Vanessa Ferrari] that next time we should also paint our skin black, so then we could win too," Ferlito told reporters after the competition.
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Biles' win made her the first black gymnast to ever become world champion. At last year's London Games, Gabby Douglas became the first black woman to win the Olympic all-around title.
As Ferlito's comments stirred up racial tension in the gymnastics world, Italian Gymnastics Federation spokesperson David Ciaralli did little to help the sensitive situation.
"Carlotta was referring to a trend in gymnastics at this moment, which is going towards a technique that opens up new chances to athletes of color [well-known for power]," while penalizing the more artistic Eastern European style that allowed Russians and Romanians to dominate the sport for years, Ciaralli wrote on the organization's Facebook page. "Why aren’t there blacks in swimming? Because the sport doesn't suit their physical characteristics. Is gymnastics becoming the same thing, to the point of wanting to be colored?"
Both Ferlito and Ciaralli apologized for their respective comments last week.
"I've made a mistake, I'm not perfect, I was too nervous and I did not think about what I was saying. I'm just a human. I'm so so sorry," Ferlito posted on Twitter, as translated from Italian. "I want to apologize with the American girls. I didn’t want to sound rude or racist. I love Simone and I'm a huge fan of USA gymnastics."
Ciaralli tried to amend his comments in a phone interview with the Chicago Tribune.
"Possibly in saying this, I made a mistake, and I am sorry," he said. "What I said was my thoughts, not the official thoughts of the federation… I know Carlotta. She is not racist. It was just a stupid answer, and she was joking."
Biles herself has not spoken out publically on Ferlito's comments, but her parents said the insinuation that she only won because of her skin color definitely affected her.
"I found it very insulting," Biles' father, Ron, told USA Today Sports.
"The racial comment was really out of line."
"It did bother her," Nellie Biles, Simone's mother, said. "I told her, 'Don't get roped into this' and, 'Don't let those comments ruin this moment for you. Just be proud of your performance and outcome.' People are entitled to their opinion. For [Ferlito] to go into this racism stuff is pointless, and [Simone] is not going to address it."
USA Gymnastics also issued a statement on the whole incident.
"USA Gymnastics is disappointed by the recent comments made by Carlotta Ferlito and apparently by the Italian Gymnastics Federation," USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny said. "Gymnastics is a global and inclusive sport with talented athletes, and there is no place for racial insensitivity. We are contacting the Italian federation for clarification on its comments."
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