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Raven Saunders made headlines earlier this week after winning silver in the shot put and demonstrating on the podium with crossed arms. In tragic news, her coach and family announced this morning that Saunders’s mother, Clarissa, has died.
No cause of death was immediately given.
Clarissa was visiting Orlando, Florida, for Olympic watch parties in support of her daughter; this was Saunders’s second Olympics and her first medal. Clarissa’s longtime employer, a Krispy Kreme location in Charleston, South Carolina, helped raise funds for Saunders’s journey to Rio in 2016.
“My mama was a great woman and will forever live through me,” Saunders said in a Tweet this morning. “My number one guardian angel. I will always and forever love you.”
Some sad news… Olympic Silver Medalist Raven Saunders' mom has died, Raven's coach says.
He says Clarissa Saunders, who we interviewed on Friday, was at #Olympics watch parties in Florida.
— Rob Way (@RobWayTV) August 3, 2021
Saunders, 25, also shared that she would be taking a break from social media, which has been a flurry of dialogue and controversy after her demonstration. The ‘X’ that Saunders made on the podium represented “intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
Since Saunders took the podium, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic issued a statement on Monday supporting the silver medalist, saying she was “respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration.” The USOPC said before the Games began that it would not punish athletes for exercising their right to free speech, as long as their expressions don’t include hatred.
However, the International Olympic Committee said it was still reviewing the matter and in contact with World Athletics, the international federation that governs track and field.
Earlier this week, Saunders indicated she would be returning to the U.S. from Tokyo on Thursday; that timeline will likely move up with the news of her mother’s death.
“It’s just a terrible blow for Raven and her family,” said Saunders’s longtime coach, Herbert Johnson, told the Post and Courier. “Raven is staying strong and sending her love to everyone.”
The USATF also shared a statement of condolences. “Her mother leaves behind an incredible legacy in her daughter for who we are so proud and grateful to call our teammate. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Saunders family during this difficult time.”