America explodes over Olympic athlete's divisive act on podium

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Gwen Berry, pictured here after turning away from the US flag.
Gwen Berry (L) turned away from the US flag at the Olympic Track & Field Team Trials. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Hammer throw star Gwen Berry has sparked a storm in the US after turning away from the American flag while on the podium for the medal ceremony at the US Olympic trials.

Berry was suspended for 12 months by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee in 2019 after raising her fist at the Pan American Games, but did so again before Thursday's qualifying round as part of her quest for social change.

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Officials said in March that athletes competing in the US Olympic trials can protest - including taking a knee or raising a clenched fist on the podium or at the start line during the national anthem.

But when 'The Star-Spangled Banner' played on Saturday, Berry placed her left hand on her hip before turning away from the flag and facing the stands.

She also pulled up a black T-shirt with the words "Activist Athlete" emblazoned on the front to cover her head.

Berry later said her move was not a protest, although she was upset about the national anthem being played at that particular time.

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

"I feel like it was a setup. I felt like they did it on purpose," said Berry, who finished third to make her second US Olympic team. 

"I was pissed, 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. 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 set-up. I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade."

Gwen Berry, pictured here with DeAnna Price on the podium at the US Olympic trials.
Gwen Berry (L), with DeAnna Price on the podium. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Gwen Berry's podium actions divide America

Unlike the Olympics, they don't play national anthems to accompany medal ceremonies at the trials. 

But the hammer throwers received their awards shortly before the start of the evening session, which has been kicking off all week with a video rendition of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' played on the scoreboard.

USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said “the national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 pm today. 

"We didn't wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards. The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule."

On Saturday, the music started at 5:25 pm.

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Berry said that her mission was bigger than the sport and "me being able to represent my communities and my people, and those that have died at the hands of police brutality, those that have died to this systemic racism."

Her actions on Saturday heavily divided America.

Radio host Mark Davis said Berry “needs to learn that it’s not about the anthem ‘speaking for her’, it’s about a moment of gratitude for this country that makes her Olympic dream possible.”

“Shameful self-absorption," he described it.

Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said: "What is wrong with people? Growing up, everyone stood for the American flag. Didn’t matter your politics, race, sex, income, religion – everyone stood for the flag. 

"It was one of those civic rituals that brought us together. It still should today.”

However others were supportive of Berry and said her actions should spark more discussion.

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