When asked what the gesture meant, the 25-year-old explained that it was meant to represent “the intersection where all oppressed people meet.”
The Olympics prohibit political statements during competition or on the winner’s podium, creating a potential clash between the athlete and sporting authorities. Ms. Saunders is known to be a colorful personality.
During the Games and Olympic Trials, she often sported a multi-colored shaved head and face masks with different comic book characters like The Hulk and The Joker.
After winning on Sunday, she did a happy miniature dance routine.
On a more serious note, she has also spoken openly about her struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, and the need for LGBTQ + people like her to embrace the mental health discussion.
Shortly after Ms Saunders made the X symbol, another American athlete made a similar gesture on the podium.
When American fencer Race Imboden stepped onto the podium at another location to collect his bronze medal, he had an X surrounded by a circle drawn on his hand, which was not present during the competition. We do not know what fate awaits these outspoken athletes. The IOC, which organizes the games, does not allow demonstrations during the competition, although the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee recently changed its own policy on the matter, refusing to punish competitors for exercising their right to speak unless let them not be hateful.
Ms Saunders and Mr Imboden could have their medals withdrawn or excluded from the competition. So far, more than the competition itself, the main story of these games has been the franchise and the personality of the athletes.
Superstar gymnast Simone Biles rocked the sports world when she pulled out of the women’s gymnastics team final on Tuesday, citing concerns about her mental and physical health. “For anyone who says I quit, I haven’t quit, my body and head just aren’t in sync,” she wrote on social media at the time. I don’t think you realize how dangerous it is on a tough competition surface.
Even before the Games began, there was another important story about athletics and mental health: American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was banned from competing, after using marijuana during the Olympic trials following the announcement of the death of his biological mother.
Many Americans and prominent figures, including President Biden, rallied to his defense, applauding him for speaking out.
Commentators praised Ms Biles, Richardson, as well as tennis star Naomi Osaka, for encouraging women of color to speak openly about their mental health issues, marking a major cultural shift from when athletes, especially people of color from past generations have been urged to ‘stick to the sport’. American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both black, were ejected from the Games in 1968 after raising the fist of Black Power during a medal ceremony.