US hammer thrower Gwen Berry says she is “ready to change some stuff for real” after raising her fist before the women’s hammer throw final at Tokyo 2020 on Tuesday.
As she was introduced into the stadium, Berry raised a clenched fist, later explaining she was protesting social and racial injustice.
“I’m just here to represent, man,” she told reporters on Tuesday. “I know a lot of people like me, a lot of athletes like me, a lot of people are scared to succeed or speak out. As long as I can represent those people, I’m fine.”
Berry has been outspoken on social issues in the past and has a history of protesting at major track and field events.
After qualifying for her second Games in June, the 32-year-old turned away from the flag while the national anthem played during the medal ceremony and draped a T-shirt reading the words “activist athlete” over her head.
Berry later said she was “set up” on the podium having been told that the anthem would be played before the athletes stepped on.
In 2019, she also lost some of her sponsorships after raising her fist in protest on the podium at the Pan American Games in Peru.
She received a 12-month probation from the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee for the act, which she says was meant to highlight social injustice in America.
The International Olympic Committee’s Rule 50 ban prohibits athletes from protesting at Olympic sites.
Following a 10-month review of the rule that concluded in April, the body decided to uphold it, but in July added an amendment allowing athletes to express their views in mixed zones, press conferences and during interviews, as well as prior to the start of competition.
“We try to respect the views of all the athletes; we’ve given them more opportunity to express themselves .. We’ve created possibilities before the sport begins to make protests,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams on Monday.
Berry had not ruled out a podium protest but was unable to find her best form during the final and finished out of the medal places in 11th.
“I’m feeling tired man, I’m kinda bumped. I feel like my body just didn’t work, and I was shutting down too much,” she added, speaking about her performance.
“So then, when it came time to be clutch, I just didn’t trust myself enough to go. I’m not mad at myself. I conquered a lot of fears today.”
‘People hate me when I succeed’
Berry received a lot of criticism for her protest at the Olympic trials earlier this year, with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Dan Crenshaw among her critics.
However, in response to the people on social media who expressed delight after she failed to win a medal in Tokyo, Berry was unapologetic.
“People hate me when I succeed. People show me hate when I don’t,” she wrote on her Twitter account.
“Either way … my message still remains. I still will be an advocate for CHANGE and SOCIAL JUSTICE.”
Berry says she has not ruled out competing in the Paris Games in 2024 but insisted she now wants to use her time to start helping people who need it most.
She has previously said her desire to take a stand against social inequality is more important than the impact it might have on her career.
“I got accepted into a Historically Black College so that I can start creating some programs to actually help the communities, just being more on the ground and start with grassroots work for the people I care about and the people who need the most help,” she said.
“Tennessee State University offered me and my son a full ride to go there. I’ll be doing my masters, I’ll be training. I’ll go for a few more years, and then I’m ready to get to work, man. I’m ready to change some stuff for real.
“I’m tired of being away from my family, tired of sacrificing for this sport that don’t pay us.
“But I’m gonna help my people, that’s what I’m doing first. I’m more than an athlete. I’m just a different person now.”
Speaking to reporters after the final on Tuesday, Berry also praised US shot-putter Raven Saunders who made a gesture after winning a silver medal on Sunday.
The 25-year-old raised her hands and crossed them in an X as she and her fellow medal winners posed for photos, telling NBC that it represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
The IOC said it was looking into the gesture Saunders made on the podium, which was a potential breach of rules banning protests on medal podiums.
“I think it’s ridiculous that the IOC is really paying attention to that only because she did it towards the end of everything,” Berry said.
“She literally respected everybody on the podium. It was right before they were going off the podium that she took the picture.
“So I feel like she should not be punished and hope that she keeps her medal.”