Great Britain

Tokyo Olympics: What was Gwen Berry’s flag protest and why are Lara Trump and right-wing critics so angry?

She is the Team USA Olympian who Lara Trump and other conservatives have said they hope loses at Tokyo 2020.

US track and field athlete Gwen Berry, 32, will compete in the final of the hammer throw knowing that her critics want her to fail to win a medal in the Olympic Stadium.

Berry has become a lightning rod for right-wing condemnation because of her activism and her protest of the US national anthem from the podium.

During the June trials for Tokyo in Oregon, Berry caused uproar when she turned away form the American flag as The Star-Spangled Banner was played, leading to calls from politicians such as Ted Cruz and Dan Crenshaw for her to be banned from the team.

Ms Trump, the daughter-in-law of the one-term former president, even went on Fox News and branded Berry “disrespectful to America” and “disrespectful to our troops.”

And when she appeared on the news channel on Sunday, Ms Trump added that “there are a lot of people who hope she doesn’t make it to that podium because, you know, she’s – she’s not doing the right thing with that.”

After her June protest, Berry, who is Black and says she is protesting systematic racism in the country, said that trials organisers had deliberately played the national anthem to provoke her.

“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” she said afterwards, implying the song had been played in the stadium to force her into compliance. “I was p***ed, to be honest. They had enough opportunities to play the national anthem before we got up there.

“I was thinking about what I should do. Eventually I stayed there and I swayed, I put my shirt over my head.”

USA Track and Field subsequently denied her accusation, saying the anthem was played in accordance with “a previously published schedule”, but the incident created a furore.

Responding to the hostile reaction, Berry wrote on Twitter: “These comments really show that: 1.) People in American rally patriotism over basic morality. 2.) Even after the murder of George Floyd and so many others; the commercials, statements, and phony sentiments regarding black lives were just a hoax.”

She had previously drawn ire at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, when she won gold for the hammer throw and raised her fist in the air during the same anthem in opposition to social injustice “and a president who’s making it worse”, a reference to Donald Trump.

That protest saw her reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee, who placed her on probation for 12 months, and cost her tens of thousands of dollars in lost sponsorship deals.

Gwen Berry was born in St Louis, Missouri, on 29 June 1989 and played basketball while a student at McCluer High School in Florissant before shifting her focus towards track and field.

She subsequently took a degree in psychology and criminal justice at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2007, where she picked up throwing events as part of the Salukis collegiate team and came fourth in the hammer throw at the 2008 USA Junior Championships.

Gwen Berry turns away from US flag during the national anthem on day nine of the 2020 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon

Her international debut for the US arrived at the 2010 NACAC Under-23 Championships in Athletics in Miramar, Florida, where she took the hammer bronze, an achievement that she surpassed at the Pan American Sports Festival in Mexico City in 2014, when she won gold in the same discipline by beating her own former idol, three-time world champion Yipsi Moreno of Cuba.

She has subsequently competed at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and the World Championships in London in 2017 but it was not until two years ago in Lima that she added to her medals tally - although she did record the sixth-furthest women’s hammer throw of all time in June 2018 in competition in Chorzow, Poland, tossing 77.78 metres.

After making it through to the final in Tokyo, Berry said she was not impacted by the criticism she has received.

“All those people that hate me aren’t here, so they can’t affect me,” she said.

“I feel like I’ve earned the right to wear this uniform because of all my hard work and sacrifices,” she added.

“It’s not just about the uniform, it’s about the people who helped me get here, and about my fight, my resiliency.”

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