raven saunders

Raven Saunders' Mom Dies Days After She Wins First Olympic Medal

"My number one guardian angel. I will always and forever love you," Saunders wrote on social media of her mother's passing

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The mother of Olympic shot put star Raven Saunders died Tuesday, just days after the South Carolina native won her first Olympic medal at the Tokyo Games.

Clarissa Saunders died in Orlando, Florida, where she was attending watch parties for family members of Team USA, Raven's longtime coach, Herbert Johnson, announced in a Facebook post. Raven finished second in the shot put competition on Sunday with a throw of 19.79m to win the silver medal.

Following news of her mother's passing, Raven, who is still in Tokyo and was expected to return stateside on Thursday, wrote on Twitter that she was going to take a break from social media to focus on her mental health.

"Hoping off social media for a while to take care of my mental and my family," Raven tweeted. "My mama was a great woman and will forever live through me. My number one guardian angel. I will always and forever love you."

The tweet was accompanied by a video of her mom and sister Tanzania Watson attending a watch party at Raven's high school in her hometown of Charleston. In the video, Clarissa notes that it's a "bummer" to not be in Tokyo supporting Raven in-person, but says her daughter "knows we're here cheering for her."

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the USA Track and Field issued a joint statement of condolence on Twitter.

"The USOPC and USATF would like to offer Raven our most sincere 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 entire Saunders family during this difficult time."

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A breakout star at the Tokyo Olympics, Saunders became a social media sensation after Friday's shot put qualifiers when she stepped onto the field wearing a grinning Joker face mask, futuristic sunglasses and green and purple hair. For the finals, Saunders, who's nicknamed "The Hulk," donned her now-famous green mask bearing the face of Dr. Bruce Banner's alter ego in the Marvel Comics.

During the photo op at her medals ceremony Sunday night, Saunders stepped off the podium, lifted her arms above her head and formed an “X' with her wrists. She told reporters after the ceremony that the gesture was in support of the downtrodden.

”It's the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet," Saunders said.

As an openly gay woman, who has contemplated suicide and seen poverty and depression ravage her Black community and other like it, Saunders said it was her duty to speak out.

"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 for me personally, I represent being at that intersection," Saunders told NBC's Craig Melvin in a "TODAY" show interview Monday. "I decided to use my platform to speak up for all those people, for anyone who represents any part of or any one of those groups, especially, this medals is for [them]."

The International Olympic Committee said it would investigate whether the gesture breached rules banning protests on medal podiums.

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