US Olympic hammer thrower Berry undeterred by anthem backlash

Tokyo (AFP) –


Athlete-activist Gwen Berry is determined to have the last laugh on critics who demanded she be barred from the Olympics over her podium protest at US track and field trials.

The American hammer thrower was thrust into the national spotlight in June after turning away from the US flag during a rendition of the national anthem at Hayward Field.

Berry, who advanced to the Olympic hammer final on Sunday with a throw of 73.19m, faced calls from Republican lawmakers for her to be kicked off the US team, with right-wing pundits questioning her patriotism.

However the 32-year-old shrugged off her critics on Sunday as she competed in a uniform emblazoned with "USA" and an American flag.

"All those people that hate me aren't here, so they can't affect me," said Berry, adding that she has learned to "compartmentalise" the abuse.

"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."

Berry helped shape a debate around the nature of protests by athletes in 2019 when she raised a fist on the podium after winning a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Lima in a protest against racial injustice.

That gesture earned her a reprimand from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee with a warning that future acts would face harsher punishment.

However in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis last year, and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, the USOPC apologised for sanctioning Berry, and later changed its rules to allow athletes to protest on the podium.

Berry would not be drawn on what she may be planning should she make the medal podium in Tokyo.

"My first goal is to win," she said. "My second goal is to do my best. And my third goal is to just to represent the oppressed people.

"That's been my message for the past three years - just making sure I bring my message to the situations that are going on, around the world, and especially in America."

Berry's preparations for Tokyo have been touched by tragedy, with the death of an uncle earlier this year followed by the passing away of her agent, Andy Stubbs, shortly before the trials in June.

"It's been pretty hard but I just have to be thankful that I'm alive, and I'm here and I made it," she said. "It's been a hard time. But I'm here."