When the national anthem played at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, it began while outspoken activist Gwen Berry was standing on the podium after receiving her bronze medal in the hammer throw.
While the music played, Berry placed her left hand on her hip and fidgeted. She turned to face the stands, not the flag. Toward the end, she grabbed 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 setup, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said of the timing of the anthem. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
Berry’s reaction to the “Star-Spangled Banner” was as notable as anything on the track on a blazing-hot Saturday, the second-to-last day at U.S. Olympic trials.
DeAnna Price won the event with a throw of 263 feet, 6 inches (80.31 meters), which was nearly 7 feet longer than Berry’s throw. Second place belonged to Brooke Andersen, while Berry grabbed the third spot.
Unlike the Olympics, anthems aren’t played to accompany medal ceremonies at the trials. But the hammer throwers received their awards just before the start of the evening session.
However, she found it to be no matter of coincidence that she was front and center during the anthem.
USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said “the national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. 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 p.m.
Berry, heading to her second Olympics, has promised to use her position in Tokyo 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.”
“I don’t need to do anything sport-wise,” she said. “What I need to do is speak for my community, to represent my community and to help my community. Because that’s more important than sports.”