U.S. track-and-field athlete Raven Saunders raised her arms in a symbolic protest Sunday after winning the silver in the women’s shot put, placing her at odds with the ban on making political statements during the Olympic medal ceremony.
Saunders, 25, crossed her arms over her head to represent “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet,” she told The Associated Press, in what was described as the first podium protest of the Tokyo Olympics.
Her gesture came as she posed for photos with China’s Gong Lijiao, who won the gold, and New Zealand bronze medalist Valerie Adams.
The flamboyant Saunders, whose hair is dyed green and purple, and who twerked and mugged for the cameras after her medal-winning effort, talked afterward about her struggles with mental health.
“I really think my generation really don’t care,” said Saunders, who refers to herself as the “Hulk” and wears an Incredible Hulk face mask.
“Shout out to all my Black people, shout out to all my LBGTQ community, shout out to everybody dealing with mental health,” she said. “Because at the end of the day, we understand that it’s bigger than us, and it’s bigger than the powers that be.”
The International Olympic Committee relaxed its protest rules before the Tokyo Games, allowing athletes to express their views on issues during press conferences, but warned of sanctions for those who engage in demonstrations during the medal ceremony.
“The podium and the medal ceremonies are not made . . . for a political or other demonstration,” IOC president Thomas Bach told the Financial Times last month. “They are made to honor the athletes and the medal winners for sporting achievement and not for their private [views].”
The warning apparently worked. Before Saunders, who hails from Charleston, South Carolina, the anticipated protests during the Olympic medal ceremonies had not materialized.
It is unclear what if any sanctions Saunders, who won SEC and NCAA championships at the University of Mississippi, may face for her demonstration.
Herbert Johnson, her high school coach, told the Charleston Post and Courier that she should be “prepared to face the consequences.”
“There are rules in place and consequences for breaking those rules,” Mr. Johnson said. “I love Raven to death, but if you do something like that, you have to be prepared to face the consequences. I just hope both sides can come to an agreement that’s best for her.”
• This story is based in part on wires reports