Team USA shot putter and out lesbian Raven “Hulk” Saunders earned the silver medal in her event, finishing with a distance of 19.79 meters and marking the athlete's first Olympic medal. When the time came for her to take the podium and celebrate the win, Saunders raised her arms overhead to form an X, a gesture she later explained to the Associated Press represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
“Shout out to all my Black people. Shout out to all my LGBTQ community. Shout out to all my people dealing with mental health,” Saunders said.
The move, however, was potentially in violation of Olympic rules and led to an investigation by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) threw its weight behind Saunders, saying she was “respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration.” They also explained that the statement was in keeping with the politics and beliefs of the USOPC and that they would not punish athletes for exercising their right to free speech on the Olympic podium, provided they were not expressing any form of hatred.
Before the statement, Saunders took to Twitter to make it clear she had no intention of giving up her win. “Let them try and take this medal. I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim,” she wrote.
In the lead-up to the Tokyo games, Saunders opened up about the challenging personal battle she had faced since the 2016 Rio games where she came in fifth place.
“Oh, it’s definitely been a whirlwind, I’m not even going to lie,” she told The Root. “I’ve probably had two or three depressive episodes since COVID began. In the beginning, it was more so like, ‘All right, cool. Day-to-day.’ But then after the first month, it’s like, ‘All right, when are things going to get back to normal?’ 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?’”
Ultimately, 2021 has proven to be her comeback year and Saunders is savoring the win. "For me, just being who I always aspired to be, to be able to be me and not apologize 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," she told the press after winning her medal. "People tell me not to do tattoos and piercings, but now look at me, I'm popping."
Saunders is also proud to be the kind of role model she needed while growing up in South Carolina. “I feel amazing, because I know I'm going to inspire so many people,” she said. “About to inspire so many young girls, so many young boys, so many LGBTQ people, people who have battled suicide. So many people would have almost given up...it's not, it's not just about me.”