As if hurling an 8.8-pound shot put 64 feet and 11 inches to win a silver medal at this year’s Tokyo Olympics weren’t impressive enough, Charleston, South Carolina’s Raven Saunders has also become one of the few medalists (so far) to use their time on the podium to call attention to matters of social justice and political reform.
Doha Madani of NBC News has reported that the American athlete “used her second-place win in Tokyo to speak up for the ‘oppressed,’ she said, likely violating Olympics rules on political protest during the games.”
“Saunders, 25, raised her hands in an ‘X’ formation above her head on Sunday during a photo op at the podium following the medal ceremony where she accepted the silver [medal] for the women’s shot put event,” Madani said. “When asked what the symbol meant, she told the Associated Press, ‘It’s the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.’”
Everyone (and we do mean EVERYONE) needs to hear this👇
— On Her Turf (@OnHerTurf) August 1, 2021
“Shout out to all my Black people,” the silver medalist said. “Shout out to all my LGBTQ community. Shout out to all my people dealing with mental health.”
In a press conference with reporters following the event, Saunders (who is openly gay) addressed how meaningful she felt her win was — and how she hoped it could be part of a bigger message for people around the world hearing her story.
“I feel amazing because I know I’m going to inspire so many people, about to inspire so many young girls, so many young boys, so many LGBTQ people, people who have battled suicide,” she said. “So many people would have almost given up… it’s not just about me.”
Known for her nickname of “Hulk,” her vibrant purple and green hair, and her penchant for doing the “Dougie” dance when she does well during an event, Saunders became emotional during her talk with the press, recalling struggles with mental health issues and the long road she had taken before finally reaching the Olympics.
“Everything I’ve been through these past five years has been crazy,” Saunders said. “I remember so many times sitting in my car, crying not knowing how I was gonna pay my bills. Not knowing if I was going to be healthy, but I gave it everything I had.”
As for her “X” gesture on the Olympic podium, experts say it was likely “in violation of the Olympic charter” and its rules against political demonstrations that have existed since 1975. However, it’s unclear what, if any, consequences the Olympic officials may impose on Saunders for her actions.
On Twitter, at least, she seemed unfazed by any potential repercussions that may come her way. “Let them try and take this medal. I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim,” she joked.
Let them try and take this medal. I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim 😂 https://t.co/B59N2v9KAk
— Raven HULK Saunders (@GiveMe1Shot) August 1, 2021
According to Madani, “the issue has come up before with American hammer thrower Gwen Berry. She raised her fist on the podium after winning the hammer throw at the 2019 Pan-American Games in Peru, which led to a one-year probation by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The committee has since apologized to Berry.”