Olympic shot put star cleared by US team officials over alleged podium political gesture


A US shot putter has vowed to hold on to her Olympic silver medal after being accused of breaking rules by making a political gesture on the podium.

During the photo session after the medals ceremony on Sunday night, Raven Saunders stepped off the podium, lifted her arms above her head and formed an “X” with her wrists.

Asked what that meant, she told reporters: “It’s the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”

Raven Saunders competes in the final of the women's shot put
Raven Saunders competes in the final of the women’s shot put

Saunders, 25, who styles herself as “The Hulk” by competing in a superhero mask and dyes her hair green and purple, said in a late night Twitter post: “Let them try and take this [silver] medal.

“I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim.”

Her gesture was to support the downtrodden, she indicated by retweeting an article about the action by news website theGrio.

It is not clear if she will be punished and talks are under way between Olympic officials and US team bosses, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief spokesman Mark Adams said.

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Kate Hartman, the chief spokeswoman for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said they had reminded the IOC Saunders did not undermine the awarding of the medals or the playing of the Chinese anthem.

China‘s Gong Lijiao won gold in the event.

Raven Saunders, posed with the US flag after finishing second
Raven Saunders posed with the US flag after finishing second

The IOC, which prohibits demonstrations on the podium or during competition, said on Sunday night that an athlete’s national Olympic committee is required to issue any required punishment.

US officials have said they will not punish any athlete for exercising the right to free speech that does not express hatred.

The IOC last month relaxed rules forbidding athletes from any protests, allowing them to make gestures on the field, provided they do so without disruption and with respect for fellow competitors.

But the threat of sanctions remains for protests made on the podium during the medal ceremony.

If the IOC orders the Americans to punish an athlete and they refuse to do so, they would be in violation of the Olympic charter.

The Tokyo Games has already seen its fair share of protests.

Also on Sunday, US fencer Race Imboden took the bronze medal in foil with a circled X written on his hand. The meaning of the symbol remains unclear, but Imboden has knelt on the podium at previous tournaments to draw attention to racism and gun violence.

US fencer Race Imboden (L) with a cross on his right hand
US fencer Race Imboden (L) with a cross on his right hand

Elsewhere, the captain of the German women’s hockey team has been wearing an armband in rainbow colours in solidarity with LGBTQ communities during the team’s matches.

The Australian women’s soccer team unfurled an indigenous flag prior to their opening match and several other women’s teams, including Team GB, took a knee in a signal against racial inequality.

Costa Rican gymnast Luciana Alvarado raised a fist while taking the knee at the end of her routine, in support of racial equality.

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