Friday 18 May 2012

Olympic Countdown

Things were really heating up at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, in more ways that one. The heat of the host city was uncomfortable at times as the athletes gathered.

So much had changed in the world since 1988 – Germany was united, apartheid in South Africa was abolished, and the USSR and Yugoslavia had disintegrated into separate new states.

And the voice of Freddie Mercury was everywhere. Specially written in 1988 for the games, Freddie’s song “Barcelona” became a games anthem, even helping to create a popular tourist attraction as accompaniment to the dancing fountains of the city (specially renovated for the games). Unfortunately, Mercury, who was to have performed the song at the opening ceremony with Montserrat Caballé, died of an AIDS-related illness 8 months beforehand.

Yet again, more lgbt athletes took part – 13 active competitors in 9 sports. Only one athlete was “out” at these games, Jana Novotná. She had come out publicly in 1991 during the Australian Open and arrived in Barcelona hoping to improve on her silver medal from 1988. Again she played in both singles and doubles, but failed to get to the quarter-finals.

Two other lgbt Wimbledon champions had better luck - Gigi Fernandez and Conchita Martínez. Even though competing officially for the first time, Gigi had taken part in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when tennis was a demonstration sport. In Barcelona Gigi and her tennis partner Mary Joe Fernandez beat Wimbledon champs Martínez and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario to the gold medal in the women’s doubles.

Another gold medal went to swimmer Mark Tewksbury in the 100m backstroke. To this he added a bronze in the 4x100m medley relay. Mark’s involvement in the Olympics continued after Barcelona. He was an athlete representative on the IOC but resigned in 1998 over corruption within the movement. After the bribery scandal surrounding the awarding of the 2002 winter games to Salt Lake City Mark became prominent among many Olympians who called for reform. Reform did indeed come about. Today Mark is looking forward to London 2012 as Chef de Mission of the Canadian national team.

Mark became involved in another sporting controversy in 2004 when the Federation of Gay Games and the organisers of the 2006 Gay Games in Montréal argued over financial control. The Federation dropped Montréal and gave the games to Chicago. Offended by this insult to their city the Montréal organisers set up a rival games – the World Outgames. Mark Tewksbury was appointed co-president.

The last lgbt gold of 1992 went to Petra Rossner of Germany. She was the reigning World Champion in the 3km pursuit track cycling event, and it was in this that she won gold. At about this time she started dating fellow cyclist Judith Arndt who made her own Olympic debut in 1996, but they didn’t compete together on the same team until Sydney in 2000.

Two lgbt silvers were won in 1992. First, the macho world of boxing produced Mark Leduc. Starting out on the wrong side on the law, jailed for 6 years aged 15 for armed robbery, he was able to pursue his passion for boxing in prison. After his early release he won several Canadian championships. After Barcelona Mark turned professional for a year then retired. He came out in tv documentary in 1994. After that he became a familiar face on Toronto’s gay scene. Mark died in 2009 in a Toronto sauna, apparently of heat-stroke.

The other silvers went to New Zealand’s equestrian Blyth Tait, who also won a bronze. Three other gay equestrian men were in Barcelona: Robert Dover, in his third games, who also won a bronze; for GB Carl Hester competed, and the Canadian team was managed by Peter Tayler.

The remaining medals were 2 bronzes – German heptathlete Sabine Braun, and Dutch judoka Irene de Kok. To name-check the other lgbt athletes – Craig Rogerson (Australia, diving), and hockey players and future life partners Alyson Annan (Australia) and Carole Thate (Netherlands). Not able to compete on home soil was Spanish athlete Maria Martínez Patiño. The reason why is given here.

Finally, an innovation which only really took off in Vancouver at the winter Olympics in 2010 was a Pride House. At Barcelona it was unofficial and organised by local lgbt community groups. It proved very successful with over 1,000 people visiting the Pride House every day. The Vancouver Pride House was also set up by the community. Hopes of a Pride House in London 2012 were dashed because of lack of funding and sponsorship, and the Russian courts have already made it clear that a Pride House at Sochi 2014 will not be lawful. Looks like we might have to wait till Rio in 2016.

For more, official, information on the Games go to  


  1. In fact the Montreal organisers walked away from the negotiations about the scope of the event and financial control (they were expecting over 20K participants - double previous Gay Games numbers) .

    The rival organisation, GLISA, had already been formed by the time the FGG completed the re-bidding process between the other short-listed cites, that was decided in favour of Chicago over Los Angeles.

    Montreal made a $7M loss - Chicago broke even.

    Pride House in London was rescued by the combined efforts of Pride Sports, FGG and the EGLSF and others as a community-based exhibition and events. See

    1. Many thanks Paul. I've mentioned the rescued Pride House in more recent posts.