American Junior record holder Raven Saunders earned herself yet another national shot put title on Saturday. But the gold medal was not for her.
The Charleston, S.C. native sported a black t-shirt after her competition bearing the message, 'Charleston, South Carolina Holy City - 9 - We Will Never Forget.'
"I wore this shirt today to honor the nine people that were killed, or massacred, assassinated or however you want to put it," she said in an emotional interview after her competition.
Saunders was baptized at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the site of a race-related shooting in which nine people died last week. She grew up just minutes from the church, where her grandmother is an active member.
"Really, I told everyone that I was gonna dedicate any medal or my... competition today... and yesterday were gonna be... for the people that passed."
The Junior competition was hardly enough for the Southern Illinois freshman, who swept the indoor and outdoor shot put at NCAAs in an impressive rookie campaign that included setting the American Junior record at 61-1.25. She threw 55-09.75 for the win, one day after placing eighth (58-6) in the Senior competition as the only collegian to advance to the final.
"[The Senior competition] was a lot more relaxed, it felt like I was home, like I was one of them," she said. "It was just a matter of going out there and competing. They're obviously a little older than I am and a little taller, but besides that, we're all the same people."
Two events may sound like a lot, but Saunders actually qualified for to compete in both the Junior and Senior level championships in not only the shot put but also the discus and hammer throw.
One year after placing runner-up at the IAAF World Junior Championship, Saunders feels more experienced and ready for her first international win.
"It means so much more [to qualify]," she said. "Last year was my first time around, didn't really know what to expect and having been through it, I know the meaning of it a lot more now. Getting silver really pushes me to get a gold medal.
"Even though it is a different meet, gold is gold."