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American shot putter becomes first athlete to defy Olympic organisers by protesting on podium

·2 min read
Silver medallist Raven Saunders of the USA during the medal ceremony for the Women's shot put during the Athletics events of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, 01 August 2021. - FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Silver medallist Raven Saunders of the USA during the medal ceremony for the Women's shot put during the Athletics events of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, 01 August 2021. - FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

An American shot putter on Sunday became the first athlete to openly defy Olympic organisers by protesting on the podium in Tokyo.

Raven Saunders raised her arms in an X shape as she stood on the podium after collecting her silver medal.

She explained: “X is a place, it’s the cross-intersection where all people who are oppressed meet.

“I represent a couple of those communities, so I pretty much wanted to use my platform to stand up for everyone.”

Before the Tokyo Games, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach had warned athletes not to express their private views on the medal podium.

“The podium and the medal ceremonies are not made… for a political or other demonstration,” he said. “They are made to honour the athletes and the medal winners for sporting achievement and not for their private [views].”

A relaxation last month of the IOC’s Rule 50 only allows athletes to make gestures on the field of play, provided they do so without disruption and with respect for fellow competitors.

Dina Asher-Smith last week warned Olympics chiefs against punishing any athlete who makes a gesture on the podium in Tokyo.

"When it comes to people’s voice there’s very little you can control," she said. "When people feel strongly about something, particularly when it’s something that’s so close to your heart - particularly for me that topic would be racism, as a black woman you think about racism - I just think you can’t police people’s voice on that."

Saunders had already caught the attention of many with her bold appearance at these Tokyo Games, competing in a Hulk superhero face mask to match her purple and green hair.

Raven Saunders, of the United States, competes in the final of the women's shot put at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, in Tokyo. - AP
Raven Saunders, of the United States, competes in the final of the women's shot put at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, in Tokyo. - AP

Having contemplated suicide in 2018, she has been a strong mental health advocate and also spoken about being an openly gay athlete.

Asked what her message was, she said: “For me, just being who I always aspired to be, to be able to be me and not apologise for it [and] show the younger generation that no matter what they tell you, no matter how many boxes they try to fit you in, you can be you.

“People tell me not to do tattoos and piercings, but now look at me, I’m popping.”

Watch: What inspired windsurfer Emma Wilson to become an Olympic athlete?