Tuesday 12 June 2012

Olympic Countdown

Only two sports had lgbt athletes competing at the 1998 Winter Olympic in Nagano, Japan – speed skating and ice hockey.

Marieke Wijsman first skated competitively in 1988 at the age of 13. In 1996 she became Dutch champion in the 1000 metres. Marieke was the first female skater to compete internationally in clap skates. These are skates that aren’t fixed rigidly along the sole of the boot but hinged at one end so that the blade has longer contact with the ice. Soon the rest of the world followed suit and because of the increased efficiency on the ice dozens of world records were smashed by clap-skate wearers in Nagano.

American speed skater Chris Witty made her second Olympic appearance in Nagano. She improved on her 23rd position in 1000m at the 1994 games by winning silver. She also won a bronze in the 1500m. (As I said in a previous post I have only seen her name on one internet list of lgbt athletes).

The Nagano Olympics saw the introduction of women’s ice hockey, and it is in this sport that the other 3 lgbt athletes competed.

Nancy Drolet had been a member of the Canadian women’s ice hockey team since 1992. That year the team won the World Championships and Nancy was named Athlete of the Year by the Canadian Sports Council. The team won the world championships twice more before the Nagano Olympics and three more times afterwards. At Nagano Nancy and the Canadian team won the silver medal.

In the round robin stage of the tournament the Canadians beat the Swedish team. Playing for Sweden was Erika Holst and Ylva Lindberg. Even though they didn’t win a medal they finished in 5th position with Olympic diplomas.

For only the second time since 1972 there were no identified lgbt figure skaters competing in the winter Olympics. That doesn’t mean they had no influence on the competition.

Brian Wright (1959-2003) was one of the top choreographers in figure skating who influenced many others. It was watching the 1968 Winter Olympics held in Grenoble that inspired Brian to take up skating. Even though he came 2nd in the US national novice championships and was tipped for a place on a future Olympic team Brian chose choreography instead of competition. He did, however, create medal-winning routines for top skaters, most famously Michael Weiss. Brian choreographed Michael’s free routine in 1995, making perfect use of Michael’s muscular physique and jumping prowess.

Brian realised his dream of seeing Michael compete at the 1998 Olympics. When he began working with Michael in 1995 he didn’t know how much longer he had to live because he had been HIV+ since 1986. He was always open about it and was a leading figure in promoting AIDS awareness within his sport. During the Nagano Olympics CBS broadcast a profile of Brian’s choreography of Michael Weiss’s routines, which can be seen here.

AIDS hit figure skating quite hard in the 1980s and 90s. Four Olympic figure skaters died of the disease – Ondrej Nepala (1989), Rob McCall (1991), John Curry (1994) and Brian Pockar (1995). In the US alone 40 top skaters died of AIDS up to 1993. Brian Wright lost his battle with the disease in 2003.

For more, official, information on the Games go to www.london2012.com

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