EUGENE, Oregon – For the past week, the national anthem was played once a night at the US Olympic athletics tests. The song happened by chance on Saturday when outspoken activist Gwen Berry stood on the podium after receiving her bronze medal in the hammer throw.
While the music played, Berry put her left hand on her hip and fidgeted. She made a quarter turn so she was looking at the stands, not the flag. Towards the end, she pulled up her black T-shirt with the words “Activist Athlete” on the front and draped it over her head.
“I feel like it was a setup and they did it on purpose,” Berry said of the anthem’s timing. “I was mad to be honest.”
On a scorching hot Saturday, the penultimate day of the US Olympic Trials, Berry’s reaction to the “Star-Spangled Banner” was as remarkable as anything on the track. With temperatures of 101 degrees (38 degrees Celsius) on the field, DeAnna Price won the event with a throw of 263 feet, 6 inches (80.31 meters), which was nearly 7 feet longer than Berry’s throw. Price broke the meet record with four of their six litters and the last two of those litters also broke the American record.
Second place belonged to Brooke Andersen, while Berry took third place just under 2 inches ahead of Janee Kassanavoid. Berry, who is going to her second Olympics, has promised to use her position in Tokyo to continue to raise awareness of social injustices in her home country.
“My purpose and my mission are bigger than the sport,” said Berry. “I am here to represent those who have died of systemic racism. That’s the important part. That’s why i’m going. That’s why I’m here today. “
Berry didn’t think it was a coincidence that she was the focus of the anthem. In contrast to the Olympic Games, no hymns are played during the exams to accompany the medal ceremonies. But the hammer throwers received their awards shortly before the start of the evening session, which began the whole week with a video version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
US Athletics spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said, “The national anthem was due to play at 5:20 pm today. We didn’t wait for the athletes to be on the podium for the hammer throw awards. The national anthem is played daily on a previously published schedule. ” On Saturday the music started at 5:25 am.
And while Price and Andersen stood still on the podium, hands over their hearts, staring straight ahead at the American and Oregon flags, Berry fidgeted on the third step. Then she turned away and finally grabbed her shirt.
“They said they would play it before we went out and then they played it when we were out,” said Berry. “But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because it doesn’t matter. The anthem doesn’t speak for me. Never has.”
Her gestures caused practically no reaction from the still filling stands. And they were far less than two summers ago when Berry raised his fist on the podium after winning the Pan-Am Games.
This demonstration resulted in a sanction, but ultimately pushed the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committees to pledge not to punish athletes who raise their fists or kneel down at the exams or in Tokyo. It is a potential hot spot for Tokyo, where the IOC has announced it will be enforcing Rule 50, which bans demonstrations inside the lines. It’s the same ban that sent sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos home from the Mexico City Games in 1968.
Price, who, along with world record holder Anita Wlodarczyk from Poland, was only the second woman in history to crack 80 meters and expect to win gold, had no problem sharing the stage with Berry.
“I think people should say whatever they want to say. I’m proud of them,” Price said.
Berry said she had to “fix my body, fix my mind, and fix my mind” for the Olympics. The women’s hammer throw begins on August 1st.
But Berry doesn’t think she has to be on the podium in Tokyo to be the most influential.
“I don’t have to do anything sporty,” she said. “I have to speak for my community, represent my community and help my community. Because that’s more important than sport. “
The Associated Press contributed to this report.