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US track and field star Raven Saunders explains meaning behind 'X' gesture

After winning the silver in the women’s shot put competition, the Olympian opens up to TODAY about what her “X” on the podium really meant.
/ Source: TODAY

Raven Saunders took silver for Team USA in the women’s shot put final in Tokyo Sunday, but her medal-winning performance isn’t the only thing that’s had Olympic fans buzzing about her since then.

There’s also been fascination with the pose the track and field star struck when she stepped onto the podium during the medal ceremony — in which she raised both arms above her head and crossed one over the other, making an “X” gesture.

Why did she do it? What did it mean? Did it violate the International Olympic Committee’s rules against protests on the podium? The 25-year-old explained some of that during a Monday morning visit to TODAY.

Raven Saunders makes an "X" gesture during the medal ceremony
Raven Saunders of Team USA makes an "X" gesture during the medal ceremony for the women's shot put on day nine of the Tokyo Olympics.Ryan Pierse / Getty Images

“For a lot of the athletes, we talked about what was going to be our stance and what do we stand for,” Saunders explained to Craig Melvin of the conversations that took place before the events. “And ‘X’ pretty much represents the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet. I’m a Black female, I’m queer and I talk about mental health awareness. I deal with depression, anxiety and PTSD a lot. So me personally, I represent being really at that intersection.”

So the pose she struck seemed like a natural fit — for her and for others at that intersection.

“I decided to use my platform to really speak up for all of those people, everyone that represents any part of or any one of those groups especially. And I’d like to say this medal is for you guys.”

When talk on social media turned to the possibility that she might face problems with the IOC’s protest rules, she tweeted, “Let them try and take this medal. I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim.” She added a laughing emoji to the message to indicate she was only teasing.

But if any real risk of IOC sanctions exists for Saunders, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has come forward to state its own findings.

"As with all delegations, Team USA is governed by the Olympic Charter and rules set forth by the IOC for Tokyo 2020," the USOPC said in a statement to Reuters. “Per the USOPC's delegation terms, the USOPC conducted its own review and determined that Raven Saunders' peaceful expression in support of racial and social justice that happened at the conclusion of the ceremony was respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration."

Of course, Saunders is accustomed to drawing attention, whether it be for her strong efforts in track and field or for her standout style, which recently saw her wearing a mask bearing the features of “Batman” baddie the Joker during the shot put qualifying round and a mask of Marvel superhero the Hulk in the main event. In fact, the woman with striking green and purple hair is even nicknamed after the big green guy.

Raven Saunders wears a mask before she competes in the Women's Shot Put Finals.
Raven Saunders also wore a Hulk mask before she competed in the women's shot put finals at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials.Patrick Smith / Getty Images

She opened up on the story behind that moniker and mask during her chat on TODAY.

“The Hulk is really a way for me to compartmentalize,” Saunders said. “I talk about mental health and I talk about mental health awareness a lot, especially with my personal struggles. So, for me, the mask is a way for me to channel my inner Hulk. Raven still gets to have fun, twerk a little bit, celebrate, you know, dance a little something something.”

But Hulk? "That's beast mode.”