She did it once and apparently, she will do it again! United States Olympic athlete Gwen Berry made headlines before the Olympics by turning her back on the American flag during a medal ceremony at the U.S. Olympic Trials. And now she says that she plans to make a similar protest if she medals at the Tokyo games.
Berry made it through the qualifying rounds in the hammer throw event during the Group B preliminaries. This gave her the right to compete in the women’s medal round on Tuesday.
For those who honor the flag, there is some consolation in knowing that Berry is not expected to make it to the medal podium. In order to do this, she would have to defeat not only her American teammate, Brooke Anderson, but world-leading hammer throwers from China and Poland.
She may be counting her chickens before they hatch though because she said, in a post-qualifier interview Saturday, that she intends to make a political statement if she makes it back to a podium.
“I feel like I’ve earned the right to wear this uniform,” Berry said as she was addressing her critics. Some claimed she should be replaced by a more patriotic athlete, or that she could forgo her position on Team USA if competing under the American flag was a problem. According to The Daily Wire, some lawmakers even tossed around the idea that Berry should be taken from the team if she continued to show disrespect to the United States.
“I’ll represent the oppressed people,” Berry declared. “That’s been my message for the last three years.”
Berry first protested against the American national anthem in international competition when she won a medal at the Pan American Games two years ago. After this protest, she also turned her back on the flag during the medal ceremony. This action caused her to have a fine from the Games themselves. There is a prohibition against political demonstrations.
The most recent headlines came when Berry turned her back on the national anthem during the U.S. Olympic Trials after winning the bronze medal. She did this while being draped in an “activist athlete” tee-shirt and she looked directly at the press during the protest. This positioned her with her back turned away from the stars and stripes alongside her fellow athletes.
After the protest, Berry claimed that she believed the anthem incident was a “set-up.” The USA Track and Field leadership denied this to The Associated Press.
“I feel like it was set up,” Berry said with a burst of laughter. “I feel like they did that on purpose, and I was pissed, to be honest. I was thinking about what should I do. Eventually, I just stayed there and just swayed. I put my shirt over my head. It was real disrespectful. I know they did that on purpose, but it’ll be all right. I see what’s up.”
The USA Track and Field spokesperson, Susan Hazzard, replied, “The national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. today.” Hazzard continued, “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.”
Berry made it clear to the media that the negative attention from before the Games is not affecting her performance in Tokyo.
She said, “I’m just focused on what I need to do. Because all those people who hate me, they aren’t here. So they can’t affect me.”
The International Olympic Committee has actually loosened restrictions on athlete protests for the Tokyo Games. They basically watered down Rule 50 which bars political demonstrations from the Olympic Games themselves. But the IOC continues to prohibit medal stand protests.