Raven Saunders’ journey to the 2020 Summer Olympics was anything but easy.
Prior to arriving in Tokyo in July, she battled racism, mental health struggles, homophobia, and more than her fair share of financial challenges. And each of these only seemed to become even more complicated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Oh, it’s definitely been a whirlwind, I’m not even going to lie,” she told The Root in May. “I’ve probably had two or three depressive episodes since COVID began. In the beginning, it was more so like, ‘All right, cool. Day-to-day.’ But then after the first month, it’s like, ‘All right, when are things going to get back to normal?’ 2020 was supposed to be my comeback season. And then you get geared up, you get ready to go, and then all of it’s halted. So you go through a phase of questioning. Like, ‘Dang, man. What could have happened?’ Or uncertainty. And then you go through the phase of anger, like, ‘Damn when will things get back to normal?’”
So considering everything that she’s been through in the years leading up to competing in Tokyo, I wasn’t the least bit surprised on Sunday when she celebrated her first Olympic medal—she won silver in the shot put after placing fifth in the same event during the 2016 Summer Olympics—by, well, twerking.
And with her being an ardent supporter of all things mental health and racial justice, I wasn’t surprised at all either when she took to the podium afterward and, with her silver medal still dangling from her neck, threw up an “X” with her arms to recognize “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet,” per NBC News.
“Shout out to all my Black people. Shout out to all my LGBTQ community. Shout out to all my people dealing with mental health,” she told reporters afterward. “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 just about me.”
In April, the International Olympic Committee announced that protests and demonstrations would be forbidden on the podium during the Tokyo Olympics. And while there was initial concern that Saunders would be penalized for her decision to recognize “all people who are oppressed,” the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced on Monday that she’s in the clear.
“As with all delegations, Team USA is governed by the Olympic Charter and rules set forth by the IOC for Tokyo 2020,” the USOPC said in a statement. “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 IOC, however, is “looking into” the USOPC’s statement, according to USA Today.
“We are not surprisingly looking into the matter, and will consider our next steps.” IOC chief spokesperson Mark Adams said. “We need to fully establish what’s going on and then make a decision from there.”
The IOC can make whatever decision it wants, but good luck getting that medal back from Saunders.
“Let them try and take this medal,” the 25-year-old tweeted on Sunday. “I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim.”
I guess we’ll wait and see how this all unfolds. But if I were the IOC, the last thing I’d ever be doing is coming for somebody whose nickname is “Hulk.”
Congratulations are in order for Raven, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for such a passionate competitor.