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Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry turns back on US flag during anthem

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 27/06/2021 Keith Griffith For Dailymail.com and Associated Press and Reuters
a group of people posing for the camera: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

Hammer thrower Gwen Berry turned away from the American flag on Saturday while on the podium for a medal ceremony at the U.S. Olympic trials, saying it was 'disrespectful' to play the national anthem while she took a bronze medal.

While the anthem played at the trials in Eugene, Oregon, Berry placed her left hand on her hip and shuffled her feet. She took a quarter turn, so she was facing the stands, not the flag. 

Toward the end, she plucked up her black T-shirt with the words 'Activist Athlete' emblazoned on the front, and draped it over her head.

'I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,' said Berry, who finished third to make her second U.S. Olympic team and is an outspoken activist on racial justice issues. 'I was pissed, to be honest.'

Berry has previously protested against racism during competition, most recently raising a fist at the trials on Thursday, and said that she felt insulted by the Star-Spangled Banner playing as she took the podium. 

a woman standing in front of a crowd: While the anthem played at the trials in Eugene, Oregon , Berry placed her left hand on her hip and shuffled her feet before turning away toward the stands

While the anthem played at the trials in Eugene, Oregon , Berry placed her left hand on her hip and shuffled her feet before turning away toward the stands
© Provided by Daily Mail

'They had enough opportunities to play the national anthem before we got up there,' she said. 'I was thinking about what I should do. Eventually I stayed there and I swayed, I put my shirt over my head. It was real disrespectful.'

'It really wasn't a message. I didn't really want to be up there. Like I said, it was a setup. I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade,' added Berry.

'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.' 

USA Track and Field said the anthem was played once every day at the trials according to a published schedule.

Saturday's schedule listed the time for the anthem as 5.20pm, though it began at around 5.25pm. 

'We didn't wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards,' spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said in a statement. 'The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule.'

'We're thrilled with the women's hammer throw team that selected themselves for the Games,' added Hazzard.

a woman standing in front of a crowd: USA Track and Field said the anthem was played every day at the trials according to a published schedule, and was not timed to coincide with the hammer trials

USA Track and Field said the anthem was played every day at the trials according to a published schedule, and was not timed to coincide with the hammer trials
© Provided by Daily Mail

Berry was suspended for 12 months by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for a raised fist at the 2019 Pan American Games, but did so again before Thursday's qualifying round as part of her quest for social change.

The USOPC in March reversed its stance and said that athletes competing in the U.S. Olympic trials can protest, including kneeling or raising a clenched fist on the podium or at the start line during the national anthem.

Berry has promised to use her position to keep raising awareness about social injustices in her home country.

'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.'

Berry raises her fist at the trials on Thursday, after USOPC reversed its ban on athlete protests and apologized for sanctioning her for a similar protest in 2019 © Provided by Daily Mail Berry raises her fist at the trials on Thursday, after USOPC reversed its ban on athlete protests and apologized for sanctioning her for a similar protest in 2019

Last June, Berry demanded a letter of apology from USOPC for sanctioning her over her 2019 Pan American Games protest, and then revised her demand to ask for a public apology from USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland.

Hirshland met the demand and issued a statement after meeting with Berry privately.

'I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,' Hirshland said in the statement. 

'I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.' 

a man hitting a ball with a racket: Gwen Berry places third in the women's hammer with a throw of 241-2 (73.50m) during the US Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field on Saturday © Provided by Daily Mail Gwen Berry places third in the women's hammer with a throw of 241-2 (73.50m) during the US Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field on Saturday a woman in a cage: Last June, Berry (seen in 2017) demanded a letter of apology from USOPC for sanctioning her over her 2019 Pan American Games protest, and received one © Provided by Daily Mail Last June, Berry (seen in 2017) demanded a letter of apology from USOPC for sanctioning her over her 2019 Pan American Games protest, and received one

Now, Berry will be heading to her second Olympics, and on Saturday she saw what it will take to earn a spot on the podium in Tokyo.

DeAnna Price won the trials with a throw of 263 feet, 6 inches, which was nearly 7 feet longer than Berry's throw. Brooke Andersen took second place.

Price, who became only the second woman in history to crack 80 meters, said she had no problem sharing the stage with Berry.

'I think people should say whatever they want to say. I'm proud of her,' Price said.

She figures to be going for gold along with world-record holder Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland, who is expected to be in Japan. Meanwhile, Andersen's throw was a mere 2 inches shy of Berry's personal best.

Berry said she needs to get 'my body right, my mind right and my spirit right' for the Olympics. The women's hammer throw starts August 1 in Tokyo. 

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