Sunday, 8 April 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 Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

The Winter Olympics of 1980 was the calm before the storm.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. It was universally condemned. Even as early as New Year 1980 some countries were talking about boycotting the Olympics that were to be held in Moscow that summer. At the Winter games in Lake Placid, USA, no serious threat of a boycott emerged and the games suffered little.

Once again it was the ice arena that saw lgbt competitors taking part. American pairs skaters Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia returned. They were World Champions and favourites for the gold medal. The practice sessions went well, but then Randy suffered a groin injury during the warm-up that was too serious for him to continue. To the disappointment of the whole world the couple pulled out of the competition.

Turning professional after that removed all hope of an Olympic gold. However, their popularity and iconic status was proved when they skated together again in the very same Olympic Lake Placid ice stadium at the 25th anniversary reunion of the 1980 US Olympic team. Needless to say they got a standing ovation when they stepped onto the ice. Randy and Tai continued to be involved in professional skating. Randy also choreographed a skating sequence for an episode of “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Skating with Celebrities” in 2006.

Performing solo on the ice in Lake Placid in 1980 was Canadian champion Brian Pockar. Disappointingly he finished 12th, but his creative talents were to be utilised in a much bigger arena at the 1988 Winter games in Calgary.

The mass boycott of the games in Moscow was a great disappointment for many athletes, both for those who competed and those who didn’t, including divers Scott Cranham and Greg Louganis whose national teams “ordered” them to stay away. Other countries, like the UK, supported the boycott but left the decision to boycott to individual athletes.

Not wanting to be denied the chance to compete some boycotted track and field athletes took part in the Olympic Boycott Games in Philadelphia, USA. Unlike his fellow team member Scott Cranham, the Canadian national champion middle-distance runner Greg Duhaime did have a chance to compete. He finished 3rd in the 5,000m. Unfortunately, Greg only finished 16th at his only official Olympics in 1984, and he died of AIDS in 1992 aged 38. Other sports, such as equestrianism, held their also held their own boycott games.

One member of the UK team was barrister Terence Etherton. He was selected for the 1980 fencing team but his name doesn’t appear in the official list of those who competed in Moscow. This suggests that he decided to boycott or was a non-competing member. Terence made history in 2001 when he became the first lgbt Olympian to be knighted, and he became the first gay Lord Justice of Appeal in 2008.

Of course, Communist-run countries didn’t boycott the games – except China. In the Cuban swimming team was Rafael Polinario, a member of the national team since he was 14. Although he finished 11th in Moscow he won gold medals in the 100m and 200m freestyle at the Pan-American Games in Cuba in 1982.

Rafael’s life follows that of many gay men in that period. He lived in an environment where his sexuality could be a reason to prevent him from competing. Being a high profile celebrity in Cuba he hid his sexuality by marrying (to a Cuban national synchronised swimmer) and fathering a daughter, Ann. Rafael and his wife separated soon after Ann was born, and after the Cuban head coach questioned his association with various “anti-socials and homosexuals” Rafael decided to defect. This he did in Canada.

Continuing to swim and coach once asylum was granted Rafael joined Toronto’s gay swim and water polo teams which competed at the first World Outgames in MontrĂ©al in 2006. Through coaching his disabled daughter Ann, Rafael had an opportunity to coach swimmers for several future Olympics.

The next Olympic post, celebrating 100 days before London 2012, will feature the first Gay Olympics.

No comments:

Post a Comment