Raven Saunders Wins Silver in Shot Put with a Mask Matching Her 'Hulk' Nickname
No, the Joker or the Hulk didn't just win an Olympic medal — Raven Saunders did.
The U.S. track and field athlete earned silver in the women's shot put final on Sunday morning at the Tokyo Summer Olympics with a best distance of 19.79.
China's Gong Lijiao, who led the entire final, won gold and Valerie Adams, of New Zealand, took bronze.
"I like to say I don't want anything easy. I never want anything easy, because I know that in life, you know, it's going to be a dog fight out there," Saunders, 25, told PEOPLE as she spoke with reporters after competing.
"A lot of things aren't going to come to you easy," she said. "So I was kind of expecting that and prepared for it. And I was happy when she [Gong] brought it, because I don't want to win on no crap, like I want to make sure that when I'm competing against the best, I'm competing against the best at their best."
Saunders has been a social media sensation at these Games thanks to her outfits: At qualifying on Friday, she competed wearing a Joker mask with her buzzed hair dyed the same as the Batman supervillain's signature green and purple.
She told reporters that it was a riff on her "Hulk" nickname — a moniker she returned to for the final, her face covered with a mask bearing the Marvel superhero's brute force grimace.
It was all for show.
"Kind of an ode to the Joker but also a way to switch it up a little bit — you know, create a little bit of shock value," Saunders said Friday of her get-up, according to The Washington Post. "I know everybody was probably expecting the green, so I had to change it up."
And, she admitted, "I know these photos are going crazy right now." (They were: As the viral tweets piled up, USA Track & Field posted "That's so Raven.")
Swaggering in competition, Saunders was described as "bubbly" and "infectious" outside of it, according to the Post — just as likely to bring along an Xbox for her team while on the flight to Japan.
After she won silver in shot put, Saunders exulted for the camera, twerking for TV audiences while draped in an American flag.
"I feel like I've been living in a box, in a closet before, so I'm just going to be me," she told reporters.
Heading into the final, Saunders had said Friday that she was feeling "really good. I feel absolutely amazing. I've been preparing myself for pretty much a dog fight, a battle — maybe one of the greatest shot put competitions of all time."
"So I'm really ready. I'm really focused," she continued. "I'm ready to get it and compete against really great athletes."
Tokyo is Saunders' second Olympics after the Charleston, South Carolina, native placed fifth in women's shot put at the 2016 Rio Games. She has said the years since then were rough, mentally: marked by depression and thoughts of suicide.
"When you start to try and say certain things to people subtly without exposing too much and feeling very vulnerable, it's like 'you don't have anything to worry about, you just went to the Olympics,' " she told Olympics.com earlier this year. "All of the mental challenges you have sometimes get brushed to the side or blown off as if you shouldn't have anything to worry about."
After a low point in January 2018, Saunders reached out to her therapist and entered a facility for treatment. "It helped me more than you could know," she told Olympics.com.
"They helped me to realize, you are not your sport. You're Raven, that's good at what you do," she said. "And being able to separate the two and being able to appreciate myself as a person and then myself as an athlete really opened myself up to being able to be truly happy. "
"Just focusing on myself for once, after having years and years of non-stop focusing on track, it was amazing. It was needed. It was a wonderful break," she said. "And it was a lifesaver."
After her win, she told reporters, "My message is to keep fighting, keep pushing, keep finding value in yourself in everything you do."
"It means a lot to be able to walk away with a silver medal because I do represent so many people," she said, referencing the Black community as well as LGBTQ people and people who have dealt with mental health issues.
"I know there are so many people that have been looking up to me, so many people that have messaged me, so many people that have been praying for me," she said.
"I'm happy I get to bring this back for them, not just myself."
COVID-19 protocols have prevented friends and family from being in the stands at the Olympics, but Sanders' loved ones have reportedly been gathering to watch together at a high school gym in Charleston.
Saunders encouraged fans to wear some kind of green for the final — green hair, green nails green makeup — and post a photo of it. The best one, she said on Instagram, would win an autographed Team USA singlet.
On her Story, she re-posted someone else celebrating her energy and hype level. They compared her to Godzilla.
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.