Raven Saunders took silver in the shot put on Sunday and later made the first podium protest of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Saunders, who is black and gay, formed an “X” with her wrists as she held her arms above her head – to represent “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet”.
The International Olympic Committee has banned athletes from protesting on the podium, although they are allowed to “express their views” at press conferences. On Monday, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said they were looking into the incident but did not elaborate on what punishment, if any, the American would face. “We are in discussions with World Athletics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee,” he added.
Saunders has suffered from mental health problems and paid tribute to her “communities” after her silver medal. She added that younger people were more open to differences than previous generations.
“I really think that my generation really don’t care,” Saunders said. “At the end of the day, we really don’t care. Shout out to all my black people. Shout out to all my LGBTQ community. Shout out to all my people dealing with mental health. At the end of the day, we understand it’s bigger than us and it’s bigger than the powers that be. We understand that there’s so many people that are looking up to us, that are looking to see if we say something or if we speak up for them.”
Like many other athletes at Tokyo 2020, most notably Simone Biles, the 25-year-old says she has sometimes struggled with the pressures of elite sport. Saunders added that she had been helped by reaching out to her former therapist.
“It’s OK to be strong,” she said. “And it’s OK to not be strong 100% of the time. It’s okay to be able to need people.”
Saunders has attracted attention in Tokyo for her dyed hair and superhero masks. She said she identifies with the Incredible Hulk for his difficult road towards controlling his strength and power. Venus and Serena Williams were also role models growing up as “young black girls with beads in their hair, unapologetic”.
She added that she wanted her gesture and medal to help “people all around the world who are fighting and don’t have the platform to speak up for themselves”.
The shot put was won by Gong Lijiao of China. New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, the 2008 and 2012 champion, won bronze.