After safely making it through the qualifying round of her first appearance at the Tokyo Olympics, U.S. hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who drew outrage in June for turning her back during the national anthem at the Olympic trials, expressed her pride at donning red, white, and blue in Tokyo.
“I feel like I’ve earned the right to wear this uniform,” she said on Sunday, per ESPN. This declaration might come as a surprise to those who view her as a traitor or hypocrite for her outspoken political stances, but the 32-year-old makes it abundantly clear that she’s never wavered—nor will she—from serving as a conduit of truth for marginalized communities. And when she competes in the hammer throw in Tokyo, should she win a medal, she has every intention to do what she’s always done and keep that same energy.
“I’ll represent the oppressed people,” she said. “That’s been my message for the last three years.”
In 2019, during the Pan Am Games in Peru, the two-time Olympic-qualifying athlete made headlines when she channelled her inner Tommie Smith and John Carlos (of 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games fame) to raise her fist during the national anthem. Her courageous protest was not only met with harsh criticism, but as we previously reported at The Root, it nearly cost her her track and field career:
When last we left Gwen Berry, the U.S. Olympic hammer thrower was dismissed and disgraced after raising her fist during the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games. In response to her decision to protest racial injustice in America, she was slapped with one year of probation for violating the International Olympic Committee’s code that prohibits political demonstrations at international events. In turn, big money sponsors like Nike withdrew their support and the world-renowned track and field athlete’s career was officially in jeopardy.
“A lot of things need to be done and said and changed,” she said of her courageous act in 2019. “I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”
Thankfully, Color of Change is sponsoring the Florissant, Mo., native throughout the 2021 calendar year so that she can continue her pursuit of Olympic gold and remain unapologetic along the way. Puma has also stepped up to the plate with a $15,000 contract that will provide her with whatever apparel and equipment she needs to be able to thrive in Tokyo.
“If it wasn’t for Color of Change,” Berry admitted to the Washington Post in June, “I probably would not be in this sport.”
And with the women’s hammer throw final scheduled for Tuesday, the Southern Illinois University Carbondale alum has her heart set on winning her first Olympic medal.