June 27, 2021
EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) – Hammer thrower Gwen Berry turned away from the American flag while on the podium for the event’s medal ceremony at the U.S. Olympic trials on Saturday but said her move was not a message although she was upset at the timing of U.S. national anthem.
The Black athlete was suspended for 12 months by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for a raised fist at the 2019 Pan American Games, but did so again before Thursday’s qualifying round as part of her quest for social change.
The USOPC had said in March that athletes competing in the U.S. Olympic trials can protest, including kneeling or raising a clenched fist on the podium or at the start line during the national anthem.
When the “Star-Spangled Banner” played on Saturday, Berry placed her left hand on her hip before facing the stands and pulling up a black T-shirt with the words “Activist Athlete” emblazoned on the front to cover her head.
“I feel like it was a setup. I felt like they did it on purpose,” said Berry, who finished third to make her second U.S. Olympic team. “I was pissed, to be honest.
“They had enough opportunities to play the national anthem before we got up there… I was thinking about what I should do. Eventually I stayed there and I swayed, I put my shirt over my head. It was real disrespectful.
“It really wasn’t a message. I didn’t really want to be up there. Like I said, it was a setup. I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade.”
USA Track and Field said the anthem was played every day at the trials according to a published schedule.
“We didn’t wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards,” spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said in a statement. “We’re thrilled with the women’s hammer throw team that selected themselves for the Games.”
Berry said that her mission was bigger than the sport and “me being able to represent my communities and my people, and those that have died at the hands of police brutality, those that have died to this systemic racism.”
She added: “That’s the important part, that’s why I’m going and that’s why I was here today.”
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Eugene, Oregon and Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)