Gwen Berry, a hammer thrower for the U.S. track and field team, turned away from the country’s flag in protest on Saturday.
A three-time national champion in weight throwing, Berry is one of the most established and successful athletes for Team USA. She represented the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics, and also won a gold medal at the 2014 Pan American Sports Festival. However, her most notable win of late came in 2019, as she is the reigning 2019 Pan American Games Champion.
It was at the 2019 Pan American Games that Berry earned international attention for protesting injustice in America. Two years later, she is again making headlines for speaking out.
According to ESPN, the protest was sparked by the U.S. national anthem playing while she was accepting a bronze medal for her finish in hammer throwing at the trials.
Per ESPN, the anthem was played once per evening at the trials in Eugene, Oregon. Further, anthems are typically not played during medal ceremonies. As the music played, Gwen Berry delivered a look towards photographers.
She then faced away from the flag. As the anthem was coming to a close, Berry picked up a shirt that read, “Activist Athlete” and held it above her head.
Gwen Berry finished third in the trials, qualifying for Tokyo. DeAnna Price took gold with a throw of 263 feet and six inches. In between Berry and Price was Brooke Anderson.
Gwen Berry Explains Her Issues with National Anthem
Berry had apparently not planned to make any distinct protests or gestures during the medal ceremony. However, she was also under the impression that the national anthem would not be played.
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry said. “But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important. The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”
“I feel like it was a setup, and they did it on purpose,” Berry also added. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
The thrower also said that she continues to address issues of injustice at the Tokyo Olympics. For Berry, the competition will start on Aug. 1, which is when the women’s hammer throwing will begin.
“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” Berry said. “I’m here to represent those … who died due to systemic racism. That’s the important part, that’s why I’m going, that’s why I’m here today.”
As for why and how the national anthem played at an unexpected time, USA Track and Field spokesperson Susan Hazzard addressed the occurrence. According to Hazzard, the anthem played close to the same time it did on previous days.
“The national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. today,” Hazzard said. “We didn’t wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards. The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule.”
According to ESPN, the anthem started at 5:20 p.m. on Saturday.