Who Is Raven Saunders? Olympic Shot Put Medalist's Podium Protest Explained

Team USA Olympic athlete Raven Saunders scored a silver medal at Tokyo 2020 in the women's shot put final on Sunday.

The 25-year-old two-time Olympian from South Carolina was later seen making an X symbol with her arms at the medal ceremony.

Asked what her gesture meant, Saunders, who is gay, said: "It's the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet."

Her action went against a ban on podium protests maintained by the International Olympic Committee, the Associated Press reports.

In July that the IOC eased restrictions to allow protests before competitions begin, on the field, and at the starting line. However, protests remain banned on medal podiums.

Speaking to Newsweek on Monday, a spokesperson for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said: "We are in discussion with the IOC and IF [International Sport Federation]. As with all delegations, Team USA is governed by the Olympic Charter and rules set forth by the IOC for Tokyo 2020.

"Per the USOPC's delegation terms, the USOPC conducted its own review and determined that Raven Saunders' peaceful expression in support of racial and social justice that happened at the conclusion of the ceremony was respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration," the USOPC said.

At a press briefing Monday in Tokyo, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said Monday that the IOC is in discussion with the USOPC and World Athletics.

"We are looking into the matter and will not consider are next steps. So I don't want to preempt what those next steps would be. [I] think we need to fully understand what's going on and then take a decision from there," Adams said.

Newsweek has contacted World Athletics for comment.

Who Is Raven Saunders?

Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, Saunders graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2018, after attending Burke High School in Charleston in 2014.

She has competed in two Olympic Games, which include the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in addition to the Tokyo 2020 Games.

At the 2016 Games, Saunders finished in fifth place in the women's shot put competition. She also ranked 10th at the 2017 World Championship for women's shot put.

According to the Team USA website, Saunders began throwing shot put and discus in the ninth grade.

In 2014, she was named the Gatorade National Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year. Saunders set the all-time national high school girls record holder in the shot put category.

In February 2015, she broke the women's NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) indoor record, marking the longest throw by a female collegian ever, indoor or outdoor, according to the Team USA website.

Saunders has previously spoken about her mental health struggles, including about a fateful day back in January 2018 when she had contemplated suicide.

"I was literally in a daze and I didn't stop," she told the Tokyo 2020 website in October 2020, as she drove past her college campus, where she was originally meant to stop but instead headed towards a highway.

Saunders recalled reaching out to her therapist that day to let "her know a lot of the things that had been burdening me until that point." But she was planning to drive off a steep end of the road if she didn't hear back from the therapist.

"And in my mind I'm like, 'If I don't hear back, then that's it,' because this is the only person I feel comfortable enough to reach out to," said Saunders.

"I was really grateful," for hearing back from her therapist in time, she said. "Because that strip, the next corner... once we hit the highway, it probably would have been done."

Saunders' Podium Protest Explained

Saunders said on Sunday that she wanted "to be me, to not apologise."

"I really think that my generation really don't care," she said after her gesture.

"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," the women's shot put athlete explained.

After competing, she wants to shed light on "people all around the world who are fighting and don't have the platform to speak up for themselves," the BBC reported.

Raven Saunders at Tokyo 2020.
Team USA's Raven Saunders makes an X gesture during the medal ceremony for the women's shot put event on August 1 at Tokyo 2020. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images