Queer Olympian Raven Saunders made history by saluting the “oppressed” at the Tokyo Olympics Winning Ceremony on Sunday. As she remained on the podium to receive her silver medal for women’s shot put, she held her hands above her head in an “X” shape.
She told the Associated Press, “It’s the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
She also said:
“Shout out to all my Black people, shout out to all my LGBTQ community, shout out to everybody dealing with mental health,” she continued. “Because at the end of the day, we understand that it’s bigger than us, and it’s bigger than the powers that be.”
How Was Raven Saunders Gesture Received?
Even though some believe it might have violated Olympic rules, Outsports uncovered that the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee ruled that Raven Saunders did not violate any protocols.
The USOPC stated to Reuters:
“As with all delegations, Team USA is governed by the Olympic Charter and rules set forth by the IOC for Tokyo 2020.”
Last month, The IOC decided to relax its Rule 50, which forbids athletes from protesting. Instead, it permits them to make gestures while performing if it doesn’t disrupt the competition and is respectful to other competitors.
However, if protests are made on the podium during the medal ceremony, then the threat of sanctions will come into play.
As a response to the investigation, Saunders said, “Let them try and take this medal. I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim.”
What Does This Victory Mean for Raven Saunders?
The win is momentous for Saunders’ career. In previous years, she hasn’t had the confidence she does today. In conversation with CNN back in May, Saunders said that her mental health and depression made her contemplate suicide in 2018 after she performed and placed fifth at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She also faced an injury and undesirable result at the world championships in London the previous year.
Coming to Understand Her Identity
Raven Saunders also grappled with her identity when not performing. She also told CNN, “I wasn’t necessarily fulfilled because being a young, Black, LGBTQ woman in America and being in Mississippi — the (most) old school of old school places that you can find in America — it was really hard going through a phase of trying to learn and find myself in a place where I didn’t fully feel accepted.
Participating in the Olympics during the pandemic added challenges to her mental health. During an interview with The Root, she said: “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?'”
Coping with Mental Health
Saunders gave credit to various factors in improving her mental health. She said that medication, friends, and therapy were instrumental in maintaining her mental health. All in all, this time around, the Olympics has been a positive experience for Saunders. After winning her silver medal on Sunday, Saunders hopes to continue to inspire the LGBTQ+ community, black people around the world, and anyone impacted by mental health.