Vanessa Ferrari and teammate Ferlito finished fourth and fifth, respectively, on the balance beam Sunday at the world championships in Antwerp, Belgium — just behind bronze medallist Simone Biles, who is African-American.
"I told Vane that next time we'll have our skin black also so we can win, too," Ferlito said afterward with a big laugh.
On Tuesday, Ferlito tweeted, "I want to apologize with the Americans girls. I didn't want to sound rude or racist. I love Simone and I'm a huge fan of USA gymnastics."
She then added, "I've made a mistake, I'm not perfect ... I didn't think about what I was saying. I'm just a human. I'm so so sorry."
USA Gymnastics is asking Italian gymnastics officials for an explanation of the racially charged comments.
In trying to explain Ferlito's remarks, a federation spokesman may have further inflamed the issue. A post on Facebook by "Federazione Ginnastica d'Italia," which links to the federation's page on the social networking site, attributes different athletes' abilities to race.
David Ciaralli, the federation spokesman, acknowledged to the Chicago Tribune that he wrote the post.
"Possibly in saying this, I made a mistake, and I am sorry," Ciaralli told the Tribune. "What I said was my thoughts, not the official thoughts of the federation."
USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny still called for an explanation.
"USA Gymnastics is disappointed by the recent comments made by Carlotta Ferlito and apparently by the Italian Gymnastics Federation," Penny said in a statement. "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." ''
At last year's London Games, Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to win the Olympic all-around title. Biles became the first African-American to win the world all-around title, having also won gold on floor in Antwerp.
Ferrari also was second to Biles on floor, after which Ferrari dedicated her silver medal to the nearly 300 African migrants killed in a shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa last week.