Known for her Hulk face mask and now Olympic silver medal, Raven Saunders is so much deeper

Known for her Hulk face mask and now Olympic silver medal, Raven Saunders is so much deeper

The 25-year-old South Carolina native was second in her event final on Sunday, with a best throw of meters, or 64 feet, 11 inches. China’s Lijiao Gong was the gold medalist with a lifetime best of m (67-6.25), and the ageless New Zealander Valerie Adams won bronze at m (64-4.5).

Saunders revealed after her joyous on-track celebration – one in which she twerked in her “sprinters panties,” did an imaginary hair flip and vogued like a supermodel with the American flag – that she’d torn the labrum in her right hip just weeks before the U.S. Olympic Trials, and also “tweaked” an Achilles in the preliminaries on Friday. But she did what she’s been doing for years: She fought.

On the podium, she threw up her arms in an “X” symbol, which she said represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.” It was the most high-profile protest at these Olympics thus far – and entirely keeping with her personality and drive.

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Inspired as a girl by Venus and Serena Williams to bring her full self to the spaces she aspired to reach, Saunders was introduced and walked onto the infield at Tokyo Olympic Stadium Sunday wearing oversized mirrored shades, her short natural hair colored green on one side and purple on the other, and with her now-famous Hulk face mask strapped in place.

Despite being just 5-foot-5, she cut an intimidating figure, and that’s part of the point. After prelims on Friday, Saunders said the mask initially was necessary because of COVID-19, but she’s found it serves as a sort of “keep away” sign during competitions, when she’d rather stay to herself than chit-chat with others between throws.

“I like to be my biggest supporter – I really can’t repeat it because y’all are going to have to bleep out most of the things I say anyway, but pretty much to sum it up I’m telling myself, ‘You got it, you got it, you’re a champion, you have to push, you gotta push, nobody is going to give it to you, you have to work, you have to grind, you gotta get it,'” Saunders said. “Things like that, just a lot of positive affirmations to be able to give myself the power and be able to get done what I need to get done.”

On Sunday, Saunders knew Gong would be ready. She beat the 32-year-old the last time they met, at the 2018 World Athletics Continental Cup, but Gong, like Adams, has been one of the best female shot putters in the world for years.

“I like to say I don’t want anything easy. I never want anything easy because I know in life it’s going to be a dog fight,” Saunders said. “A lot of things aren’t going to come to you easy, so I was kind of expecting that and preparing for it and I was happy when she brought it because I don’t want to win on no crap. I want to make sure when I’m competing against the best I’m competing against the best at their best.”

What Raven Saunders and her Hulk face mask represent

Things may have been different had Saunders’ second-round throw been legal. She was quick to point out that the COVID-delayed world championships are in a year, looking forward to a rematch.

In the meantime, she was reveling in her achievement and what it could mean for so many who identify with her.

Known for her Hulk face mask and now Olympic silver medal, Raven Saunders is so much deeper

“Everything that I’ve been through mental health-wise,” Saunders said, “injuries, everything like that, financial, really being able to invest everything that I have mentally and physically. And be able to walk away with a medal and inspire so many people in the LGBTQ community, so many people who have been dealing with mental health issues, so many of the African-American community, so many people who are Black all around the world, I really hope that I can inspire and motivate.”

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