Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Olympic Countdown

Continuing my look at the Sydney Olympics I’ll begin with an omission from part one. Danish handball player Lotte Kiaerskou won a gold medal with her national team. This brings the total lgbt athletes in Sydney to 41, and the gold medal tally to 10.

Now the remaining lgbt members of the home team. Lisa-Maria Vizaniari, one of the few out athletes at the games, was a Commonwealth gold and silver medallist discus thrower. She was coached by her girlfriend Michelle Reeves but only reached 8th place, as she had in 1996. Lisa-Marie has since given up the discus and taken up boxing.

Making his Olympic debut on home soil was a gay man called Mathew who soon became Australia’s top diver. Not Mitcham, but Helm. Mat Helm competed in both individual and synchronised events though didn’t reach higher than 5th place. By his next Olympics he was world champion.

Of the 7 lgbt Wimbledon champions to have been Olympians only 3 haven’t win medals - the Australian doubles players (and one-time life partners) Rennae Stubbs and Lisa Raymond (and, surprisingly, Martina Navratilova). Lisa debuted in 2004, but for Rennae this was her 2nd games. With her then doubles partner she went out in Round 2. However, she and Lisa won the Wimbledon doubles title the next year. Other Wimbledon champions in Sydney were Conchita Martínez and Amélie Mauresmo, neither of whom got past the quarter-finals.

When you think which sport would have the most lgbt competitors in Sydney which would you say? Swimming? Beach volleyball? In fact, the combined contingent of both is less than the actual top sport – equestrianism (8). Ironically, when Australia hosted the Olympics in 1956 horses were subject to strict quarantine and the equestrian events were held in Stockholm. Last time I mentioned the 4 equestrian medallists. Two others, Robert Costello (USA) and Carl Hester (GB) came 8th in their respective events.

The remaining riders are particularly note-worthy in that they are the first male couple to compete at the same games. New Zealander Blyth Tait was one of the best known riders. At his first Olympics in 1992 he won 4 medals. His partner was Paul O’Brien. The pair met in the UK where they both went to train. The Sydney Olympics looked good for Blyth and Paul. Blyth was chosen as team captain and carried their national flag at the opening ceremony. Unfortunately, his first horse died in quarantine and both his 2nd horse and Paul’s horse were withdrawn injured. The best result either of them reached was 8th in the 3-day event team competition. Blyth returned in 2004 and Paul was an Olympic selector in 2008.

In the athletic stadium was Swedish long jumper Peter Häggström and German heptathlete Sabine Braun in her 5th and last Olympics. She finished in 5th place. In the pole vault competition was fellow German Yvonne Buschbaum, the reigning European Junior Champion. In 2007 he announced his retirement from sport and began gender reassignment. He adopted the name Balian and became a pole vault coach.

Edinanci Silva, the Brazilian judoka who underwent surgery to enable her to compete at the 1996 Olympics as a woman, returned but lost in the semi-finals. At the other end of the weight categories was American Lauren Meece, who went out in Round 1.

In the cycling competition partners Judith Arndt and Petra Rossner took part, though not in the same race. Another cyclist was Chris Witty, becoming the first and only lgbt Olympian to compete at both the summer and winter games. She finished in 5th place in the 500m time trial, helping to break the Olympic record.

In the pool we had Francilia Agar of Dominica and David Pichler of the USA. The US diving coach was former Olympian Patrick Jeffrey. In the Paralympic events was swimmer Anne Polinario of Canada who won 3 bronze medals. She was trained by her father Rafael, who is the only lgbt Olympian to be parent of another.

Three other lgbt athletes debuted in Sydney – German fencer Imke Duplizter, Swedish footballer Victoria Svensson, and South African hockey player Marilyn Agliotti.

To end the games Sydney put on the campest closing ceremony ever. Centre stage was gay icon Kylie Minogue. Also performing was Darren Hayes with Savage Garden. But what raised eyebrows, and quite a lot of criticism from some Australians, was the appearance of 50 drag queens and the eponymous bus from the film “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”.

For more, official, information on the Games go to

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