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Decorated former Olympian Michael Johnson on Monday remarked about Gwen Berry’s demonstration during the national anthem on the podium at the U.S. trials.
Johnson, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, tweeted there were two things about Berry’s protest that stood out to him whether those watching the hammer thrower agree with her or not.
“Regardless if you agree with @MzBerryThrows or not 1) You can’t deny her courage standing up for her beliefs knowing the backlash. 2) USA identities as an example of freedom which includes the freedom to stand, kneel, or peacefully demonstrate when the anthem plays,” he wrote.
When a fan asked whether the Olympics are going to be just about the protests and less about the sports, Johnson replied: “Whatever it takes brother!”
Berry finished in third place during the U.S. Olympic track and field trials Saturday, earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Her decision to turn her back on the flag and cover her face in the heat with a shirt that read “Activist Athlete” was what drew the scrutiny.
On Saturday, Berry took issue with the timing of the national anthem and said she was told it would be played before she stepped onto the podium.
“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
Gold and silver medalists DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen faced the flag with their right hands over their hearts while Berry faced away and toward the stands.
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there … But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important,” she said. “The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”
“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” she continued. “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.”
A USA Track and Field spokesperson disputed Berry’s claim that it was a set-up.
Berry won gold medals at the 2014 Pan American Sports Festival and the 2019 Pan American Games. She was sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee after raising a fist in protest at the end of the playing of the national anthem.
Fox News’ Paulina Dedaj and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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