Shot-Putter Raven Saunders Mourns the Death of Her Mother After After Incredible Olympic Win

After winning a silver medal in Tokyo, the 25-year-old athlete announced Tuesday she will be taking a break from social media to focus on her mental well-being.

Photo: Getty Images

If there's one thing to take away from this summer's Tokyo Games, it's that the heart of a champion is measured by their inner strength and not the medals around their neck. For Olympic shot-putter Raven Saunders, that means putting her mental well-being first by stepping away from social media to grieve the death of her mother, Clarissa Saunders.

Raven, who has been open about her struggles with depression and contemplated suicide in the past, revealed Tuesday that she would be taking time away from her social media platforms to spend time with family loved ones as they cope with Clarissa Saunders's tragic loss. "My mama was a great woman and will forever live through me. My number one guardian angel," wrote Raven on Twitter. "I will always and forever love you."

Clarissa's passing on Tuesday came days after Raven won her first medal at the Tokyo Games, placing second in the women's shot-put final. She died in Orlando, Florida, where she had been staying for Olympic viewing parties, according to The Post and Courier, along with the families of other Team USA athletes. Her cause of death has not yet been announced.

"My heart and my soul cries out rn, but Ik my mom is in a great space. I'll miss your love, your smile, your hugs, your advice, your jokiness, your random twerks," shared Raven on Instagram on Tuesday. "Our last conversation was one of the best ever. Mama I know you love me with every fiber in your body. I'll make sure Tanzy is ok and taken care of. You're grandkids when born will know how wonderful and beautiful of a woman you were."

Raven, a 25-year-old LGBTQ+ athlete, hasn't only made headlines for her shot put performance. She stepped into the international spotlight Sunday for making a powerful statement while wearing her first Olympic medal. While standing on the podium in Tokyo, Raven raised both of her arms above her head and crossed them to make an "X" gesture. Raven later posted a photo of the moment Monday on her Instagram page.

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"'WHAT IS YOUR IMPACT?' Love, awareness, & kindness. Young and old and Black people you are beautiful you are worthy and you are amazing," wrote Raven on Instagram. "LGBTQIA people you are beautiful you are worthy you are amazing!!! If you are mentally struggling no matter who and where you in the are in world I SEE YOU, IM FIGHTING FOR YOU and I NEED, GOD, I NEED YOU TO KEEP FIGHTING FOR YOURSELF!!!

In an interview Monday on the TODAY Show, Raven explained why she made the gesture. "For a lot of the athletes, we talked about what was going to be our stance and what do we stand for," said Saunders. "And 'X' pretty much represents the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet. I'm a Black female, I'm queer, and I talk about mental health awareness. I deal with depression, anxiety and PTSD a lot. So me personally, I represent being really at that intersection." (

In response to Raven's demonstration Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said it would be looking into whether the gesture breached the Olympic Charter, which states, "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas." Prior to the start of this summer's Games, the IOC had relaxed some of its guidelines as to how athletes could "express their views" at the Olympics. They held that personal expression is permitted as long as it's within the realm of the Olympism ideals, showing "how sport can make us all better citizens through the combination of mind, body, and spirit," according to the World Olympians Association, and without targeting "people, countries, [organizations] and/or their dignity."

On Monday, the U.S Olympic and Paralympic Committee shared their support for Raven, stating that no rules were broken. "As with all delegations, Team USA is governed by the Olympic Charter and rules set forth by the IOC for Tokyo 2020," said the organization in a statement, according to the New York Post. "Per the USOPC's delegation terms, the USOPC conducted its own review and determined that Raven Saunders' peaceful expression in support of racial and social justice that happened at the conclusion of the ceremony was respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration."

In the wake of Clarissa's death, the IOC has paused its investigation into Raven's act. "The IOC obviously extends its condolences to Raven and her family," said Mark Adams, the IOC spokesman, in a statement Wednesday, according to ESPN. "Given these circumstances, the process at the moment is fully suspended."

Raven isn't the only Olympian who made a powerful statement in support of social justice at this summer's Games. Costa Rican gymnast Luciana Alvarado also honored the Black Lives Matter movement by closing out her performance by raising her first and taking a knee.

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