Team USA’s Raven Saunders 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 for the women’s shot put event. When asked what the symbol meant, she told the Associated Press, “it’s the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
"Shout out to all my Black people. Shout out to all my LGBTQ community. Shout out to all my people dealing with mental health," Saunders said.
She later spoke to reporters about how meaningful the win was for her, having struggled with financial hardship and depression. Saunders, a native of South Carolina and who is openly gay, said her win was about so much more than herself.
“I feel amazing, because I know I'm going to inspire so many people,” Saunders said. “About to inspire so many young girls, so many young boys, so many LGBTQ people, people who have battled suicide. So many people would have almost given up...it's not, it's not just about me.”
Saunders goes by the nickname “Hulk,” and went onto the field Sunday with purple and green hair. She also delighted fans by dancing after her win, twerking on the live broadcast.
She choked up in an interview after the win describing her journey to Tokyo after years of struggling with mental health issues.
“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.”
The gesture was likely in violation of the Olympic charter, which added a rule against demonstrations in 1975. It’s unclear what consequences may be imposed by the International Olympic Committee.
On Twitter, Saunders wrote, “Let them try and take this medal. I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim.”
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.