Wednesday, 24 July 2013

On Track to the Outgames - Part 9

Whether the 2012 Olympics will help London’s bid to host the 2018 Gay Games remains to be seen, but in 2011 the 2nd North American Outgames got a significant boost from the Olympic legacy of the Vancouver Winter Olympic games.

Vancouver was chosen as host city of the 2nd North American Outgames in 2007. The Vancouver Olympics were held in 2010 and the British Colombia provincial government had put a lot of money into those games. Thanks to the games’ success the provincial government recognised the value and importance of supporting another international multi-sport festival. In June 2011 the British Colombia sport and culture minister announced a $75,000 grant to the  Vancouver Outgames. This provided a much welcome last boost to the Outgames that were to start on 25th July – 2 years ago tomorrow.

Because the Vancouver Outgames were the most recent big continental games there’s still a lot of information available. To give proper justice to these games I’m doing what I did with the 2009 Copenhagen World Outgames and splitting the article into two.

The Vancouver organising committee managed to produce an Outgames that was traditional yet innovative at the same time. The human rights conference as pretty much the same as previous ones, though, of course, there was a North Americans core to the programme. It ran for 3 days in the middle of the sports competitions. This could have provided a problem for those delegates of the conference who were hoping to compete as well. Even more so for speakers who were competing, I expect. Fortunately, the main speaker for the official opening session, Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup, had a full day after the conference closed to prepare for his gold medal-winning run in the 10k.

Quite a few sessions were centred on age – both old and young. Sessions on homophobia in school and universities, and coming out were organised, while another session was entitled “Engaging the Aging Athlete”. The British Colombia government offered funding specifically to young and senior delegates wishing to attend the conference.

The conference attracted several prominent speakers. As well as Blake Skjellerup, a leading writer on women and sport, Pat Griffin, spoke at several sessions.

The art and culture section of the Outgames included Vancouver Pride Week ending with the Pride parade the day after the official closing ceremony. The culture events included a week-long Queer History project, special performances of “Confessions of a Mad Drag Queen” and the 23rd annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

The opening and closing ceremonies were fantastic events full of fun, pride and celebration. The official Vancouver Outgames anthem “Come on Out” was written and performed at both ceremonies by lesbian duo Sugarbeach. The day-long closing celebrations also had appearances from Ace of Base and stars of “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” leading a flash mob dance.

The main innovations to the Outgames came in the sport. For the first time in an lgbt multi-sport festival there was no swimming competition. Like the field hockey, mountain biking and bowling competitions, swimming attracted a surprisingly low number of entrants. All of these sports were dropped from the schedule. Track and field events almost followed them at the last minute. The athletic club who was to have hosted the track and field events pulled out of the Outgames a week before they began, claiming that not enough interest has been shown. There were 89 registered athletes for the events and frantic efforts were made to ensure they went ahead. A new club and venue was contracted and the track and field events were saved.

In Vancouver’s bid for the games an emphasis was made on the wider sporting arena, not just city venues but sea and mountain as well – the theme of the games was “Land, Sea and Sky”. Several sailing and mountain bike events had been held in previous Outgames but Vancouver came up with the new Eco-Challenge, a gruelling 3-hour-plus challenge involving hiking, running, swimming, orienteering, canoeing and biking on Whistler Mountain. Greg Larocque was one of the gold medal winners – just a day before the start of the conference of which he was Co-Chair! Fellow conference committee member Gordon Dunbar won silver.

For those a little daunted by the Eco-Challenge but still quite adventurous was the 6k Vertical Challenge. This is an established annual race called the Grouse Grind where athletes hike up Grouse Mountain. The fastest athlete was Tin Vo from Niagra who completed the challenge in 61 minutes (he also won silver in the 10k run).

Next time I’ll mention a handful of notable achievements in the sport competition, including the most unique medal ceremony in history – ever!!

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