Outspoken hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who turned away from the US flag when the national anthem played as she stood on the podium at the Olympic trials, said she is as proud as anyone wearing the red, white and blue uniform.
“I feel like I’ve earned the right to wear this uniform,” the 32-year-old athlete said Sunday after making it safely through her qualifying round in her first appearance at the Tokyo Games.
After turning her back on the flag back in June, Berry said she was “pissed” that “The Star-Spangled Banner” played as she received her bronze medal in Oregon. She held up a black shirt that read “Activist Athlete” at the time.
The two-time Olympic-qualifying athlete incurred widespread wrath for her snub but insisted that the anthem is “disrespectful” to black Americans.
“If you know your history, you know the full song of the national anthem. The third paragraph speaks to slaves in America — our blood being slain … all over the floor,” Berry said on Black News Channel.
USA Track and Field only played the anthem once a day at the event, and said it was purely coincidental that the song and Berry’s ceremony coincided.
On Sunday, she promised that if she wins a medal in Tokyo, she’ll “represent the oppressed people,” adding, “That’s been my message for the last three years.”
Two years ago, Berry raised her fist on the medals stand at the Pan-American Games, a gesture that sparked a wide-ranging debate and then a review of what is allowed in Olympic venues where political demonstrations have long been banned.
In Tokyo, that topic has taken a back seat to the subject of mental health, which, triggered by Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, has become the center of discussion.
Berry says that subject also matters to her after her uncle passed away at the beginning of 2021, and her agent died just before the Olympic trials.
“I felt like I was going to quit this sport in February,” she said. “It’s been hard. But overall, I have to be thankful I’m alive, and I’m here, and I made it.”
She added: “I’m just focused on what I need to do because all those people who hate me, they aren’t here. So they can’t affect me.”
On Sunday, silver-winning shot putter Raven Saunders held her arms in an “X” on the medals podium to represent “the intersection where all people who are oppressed meet.”
The US Olympic and Paraolympic Committee on Monday night ruled that the Saunders was “respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration,” USA Today reported.
With Post wires