Saturday, 18 February 2012

Olympic Countdown

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

Ondrej Nepela (1951-1989) is the youngest ever lgbt Olympian, first appearing in the 1964 Innsbruck games just a week after his 13th birthday. Even at that young age he was good enough to become the Czech national skating champion the same year, a title he held every year (except 1969) until he retired in 1973. In 1965 he won his first European championship medal, a bronze, aged 14. His career was truly remarkable, and future successes (to be told in later posts) place him as high as John Curry in the lgbt superstar ratings.

At the 1964 summer games in Tokyo Canadian swimmer Marian Lay made her Olympic debut. She was another teenage athlete, being only 15 at the time. Young Marion finished 5th in the final of the 100 meters freestyle, a race won by the legendary Dawn Fraser in the first ever under-1-minute finish (Dawn Fraser has been the subject of several rumours of her being lesbian but all are unfounded). Also in 1964 Marion Lay became the Canadian 100m freestyle champion. Before her next Olympic appearance in 1968, as well as being Canadian 100m freestyle champion every year inbetween, Marion won the gold medal in the same distance at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica.

Also at the 1964 Tokyo games was Polish sprinter Ewa KÅ‚obukowska. She was trained by Stella Walsh, the Polish-American Olympic sprinting champion whose death in 1980 revealed her to be intersex. Ewa won the bronze medal in the 100 meters, and she was a member of the 4x100m relay team that won gold. The same relay team went on to win further success in the European Championships in 1966, but then the IOC decided to ban Ewa from sport and demand she return her medals. The reason? The new gender tests that had been introduced in 1967.

What must have hurt most was the humiliation this straight woman had with her gender being discussed and, by implication (in the press), her sexual orientation as well. Ewa’s exact genetic condition was never revealed, but she proved the IOC testing was flawed by giving birth to a boy in 1968 – women who fail the IOC test shouldn’t have the physical means to conceive a child.

To add insult to injury the IOC demanded that Ewa should return all of her Olympic medals. As part of a relay team you’d think that her exclusion from the medal record would apply to the whole team. If Ewa, as a “genetic male”, gave her an unfair advantage over other female athletes then it gave the whole team an unfair advantage as well. But, no. The IOC said Ewa’s relay team-members could keep their medals.

Gender testing is sport has always been controversial. On 28th February I’ll outline the history of gender testing at the Olympics.

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