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A few sentences in a YouTube video – ones that started with, “a lot of girls…” and ended with, just don’t have the work ethic” – were all it took for MyKayla Skinner to ignite a massive controversy. During the two-hour watch party for the Olympic Trials, Skinner’s comments got more and more shocking, and with each disrespectful remark, she enraged the gymnastics community that much more. And 16-year-old prodigy Hezly Rivera’s sister was among them.

Over the two days where she competed, Hezly Rivera became the talk of the town. With a remarkable 111.150 all-around score and the joint-best balance beam score, Rivera finished 5th in the trials, securing her place in the squad alongside four Olympic returnees – Simone Biles, Jordan Chiles, Suni Lee, and Jade Carey. Considering Skinner watched the broadcast, and Hezly’s name understandably came up several times, you would think she’d have known how to pronounce the prodigy’s name. But you would be wrong.

Along with the myriad of other controversial statements the 27-year-old made during the watch party, one of the most disrespectful things she did was this: She looked away from her camera and addressed her husband, asking, “Was it ‘Hazeley’ or ‘Hezly’?” That was enough to make Rivera’s sister, who goes by Queen C on social media, furious, so much so that she brought up a former encounter between Skinner and Hezly.

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On her Instagram story, Rivera’s elder sister, Carhelis Abreu, voiced her displeasure with the Tokyo Olympics vault silver medalist. “Kind of funny that you didn’t know how to pronounce my sister’s name, especially since she was on national TV,” adding, “I’m sure you heard the commentators say her name correctly every time.” She also posted a picture of MyKayla Skinner with Hezly Rivera from the 2018 Hopes Classic.

Poll of the day

Do you think MyKayla Skinner should publicly apologize for mispronouncing Hezly Rivera's name?

Yes, it's the right thing to do

No, it was an honest mistake

Only if Hezly demands it

Not sure

To go along with the picture, Carhelis Abreu wrote, “Also, you personally handed Hezly a medal at the Hopes US Classic 2018 in Utah.” At the event in Salt Lake City, Hezly Rivera placed first in the floor exercise, fourth in the vault, and sixth in the all-around competition. According to what Abreu wrote, Skinner awarded her the gold medal for the floor exercise routine, and to commemorate the occasion, they took the picture. That was the first national competition Rivera participated in, and to receive a medal from an Olympian, there’s no doubt she would’ve been proud. But that may have changed now.

So, what else did the 27-year-old say? “Besides Simone, I feel like the talent and the depth just isn’t what it used to be. I mean, obviously, a lot of girls don’t work as hard. It’s hard [to have the same work ethic as before] because of SafeSport. Coaches can’t get on athletes. They have to be really careful with what they say, which in some ways is really good but at the same time, to get really good in gymnastics, you do have to be a little aggressive and a little intense.” That wasn’t all. She took a sly dig at Chiles and Lee, too.

Both of them fell during their balance beam routines, and even so, their scores were good enough to ensure second and third place in the all-around competition, respectively. “It’s just some of the other girls that fell twice and still ending up in second place in the all-around is just kind of crazy to me.” Needless to say, Rivera’s sister wasn’t the only one to hit back at MyKayla Skinner.

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Jodan Chiles’ mother, Gina, tweeted, “Whoa. She really said that out loud and posted it. That’s something…” Simone Biles took to Instagram Threads to stand up for her team, writing, “Not everyone needs a mic and a platform.” Jordan Chiles indirectly responded, too. The backlash prompted the vault specialist to issue an apology.

MyKayla Skinner’s apology didn’t stick the landing

The 2014 World Championships team gold medalist took to social media to clear the air. However, her apology didn’t start with a sorry. Instead, Skinner said that “a lot of you guys had misinterpreted or misunderstood” her intentions. She explained that her comments were “more about going back into my own gym, just the work ethic is different.”

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MyKayla Skinner won her Olympic medal in 2021 but spent her formative years under the infamous Márta Károlyi. The U.S. women’s gymnastics national team coordinator – who, along with her husband, was accused of inflicting verbal and emotional abuse on their trainees – was behind Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 in 1976 and Biles’ historic performance in 2016. Skinner clarified that she didn’t mean to say things were better under Károlyi, just different.

“I’m not sticking up for Márta or saying what she did was good; I’m just saying it was different… I love those girls and I’m seriously so happy for them, so I would never do anything to make them feel otherwise. So sorry if that came out wrong. That was not my intention at all,” the 2014 Pan-American all-around champion concluded. However, many, including Hezly Rivera’s sister, remain unconvinced.