On Sunday, Raven Saunders won a silver medal in the shot-put at the Tokyo Games. On Tuesday, NBC reported that her mother had died in Orlando, Fla., where she had gone to attend an Olympic watch party for her daughter.
Saunders called her mother, Clarissa Saunders, her “number one guardian angel” in a message on Twitter.
Herbert Johnson, Raven Saunders’s longtime coach, confirmed her mother’s death in a Facebook post. He said that Clarissa Saunders and Raven’s sister, Tanzy, had gone from Charleston, S.C., the Saunders family’s hometown, to Orlando to watch Raven compete in the Olympics.
Raven Saunders did not disappoint. Sporting hair dyed green on the right and purple on the left and a mask that was a nod either to the Joker or the Hulk (her nickname), she defeated all competitors but Gong Lijiao of China.
Saunders, 25, brought attention to her feat, dancing and singing “Celebration” afterward and later, on the medals podium, crossing her arms in the shape of an X, a gesture she said was “for oppressed people.”
“Not being there is a bummer,” Clarissa Saunders said of not being able to be with her daughter in Tokyo, The State, a newspaper in Columbia, S.C., reported. “But hey, we’re cheering from here … and she knows we’re here cheering for her.”
Saunders, who finished fifth in the shot-put in the 2016 Rio Games, has publicly praised her mother for her support. In an Instagram post on Mother’s Day, Saunders said of her mother: “You’ve shown me what strength is and for that I can push through anything. You’ve shown me relentlessness and for that I’ve learned determination.”
Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston called Clarissa Saunders “Raven’s strongest supporter.”
“On behalf of the citizens of Charleston, we pray for Raven and her family, and join them in grieving this unimaginable loss,” Mr. Tecklenburg said in a statement.