Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Medal Quest : Figuring It Out On The Ice

Following up on my article last month about the ice hockey medal winners at the Gay Games this article deals with figure skating, one of the most popular events, both in terms of participation and spectators. Names of Gay Games figure skaters are more easily available than ice hockey players, so there’s hundreds from which it’ll be hard to select medallists to mention. I’ll give a brief history of figure skating at the Gay Games and include as many medallists as space permits.

When the organisers of the 1994 New York Gay Games were approached by Laura Moore with the suggestion of including figure skating they raised their collective eyebrows. “Why?”, was their response, “These are summer games”. But Laura, co-founder of the International Gay Figure Skating Union (IGFSU), persisted and was “rewarded” by being appointed competition organiser.

This was the first ever same-sex figure skating championship, and the US Figure Skating Association sanctioned the event by waiving regulations prohibiting same-sex couples to allow the participation of professional skaters, who would be banned from future competitions if they competed in a non-sanctioned contest. It also allowed professional judges to officiate.

Medallists included a handful of past and future professional champions – Ed van Campen, Matthew Hall, Stéphane Vachon and Charles Sinek. These last 2 had never met before the contest. When Stéphane’s pairs partner became ill 15 minutes before due on the ice Charles quickly stepped forward as substitute. They won a gold medal. Only afterwards did Stéphane find out that Charles was straight. Charles is the first Gay Games champion to go on to compete in the Olympic Games (Salt Lake City 2002).

Pairs champions also included Laura Moore with Linda Carney. Charlotte Avery and Sabra Williams later starred in a fictionalised film version of their gold medal win in the 1995 UK film “Thin Ice”. Jean Pierre Martin and Martin Hird were featured extensively in media at the time. A few months after winning their gold they performed at an AIDS charity gala with many top international and Olympic champions – only Martin and Hird received a standing ovation. Doug Mattis, a former US National Junior champion, came out at the New York games and gave 2 exhibition routines.

The success of the skating competition in New York ensured it’s inclusion in future Gay Games. However, there were problems with sanctioning in Amsterdam in 1998. The organising committee needed sanctioning from the International Skating Union. The day before competition was due to start skaters were informed that sanctioning hadn’t been received and that no competition could be held. To say the skaters were disappointed is an understatement. However, the skaters went ahead with a “public practice”. As it turned out this “practice” figure skating session, held as part of what even the IOC’s International Society of Olympic Historians admit is still the world’s biggest ever international sporting event, was a highlight of the Amsterdam games.

National skating champions who missed out on medals include Thomas Hopman, Angelo D’Agostino (1998 Calgary Olympic reserve), Frank D’Agostino, Ed van Campen and Ryan Hunka. And it’s a great loss to the medal table not to have been able to include a drag queen skating with a frying pan!

Following the disappointment of 1998 steps were taken to ensure sanctioning was received for the future. Disappointed 1998 skater, Bradley Erickson, was instrumental in obtaining membership of the Ice Skating Institute for the IGFSU. He was rewarded with 2 golds and 1 silver in the Sydney 2002 Gay Games.

How many gay men watching Joel Mangs during his 2 gold-medal-winning routines in Sydney thought “He looks like someone I’ve seen in gay porn”? And they’d be right! Joel Mangs is also Brad Patton, one of gay porn’s top stars. Joel went on to appear in the Dutch version of “Dancing on Ice” as the professional partner to a celebrity.

The skating competition expanded massively for the 2006 Chicago Gay Games with almost double the number of medals available. For the first time there was a rival for the attentions of skaters in the form of the 1st World Outgames in Montréal held a few weeks later. The Outgames also had figure skating on its schedule and a lot of skaters competed in both, several winning medals at each (including Joel Mangs). Professional figure skating champions were called upon by both events as Ambassadors – Olympian Brian Orser for the Outgames, and US champion Rudi Galindo for the Gay Games.

Another Olympic connection in Chicago came with gold medallist Franklyn Singley. He had made history as half of the first African-American figure skating pairs team. In 2002 he was assistant choreographer at the Salt Lake City Olympic ceremonies (at the opening he played a coyote, in the closing he skated with Gloria Estefan). Franklyn continues to support the Gay Games and skated at a special gala in Cleveland a month ago to promote this year’s Gay Games in that city.

When the Gay Games returned to Europe in 2010 to Cologne medallists came from a wider international base. Perhaps the most significant medal winner is one prominent at the moment in the fight for lgbt rights in Russia – Konstantin Yablotskiy. He is co-president of the Russia LGBT Sports Federation. As well as campaigning against the anti-gay laws introduced by President Putin, the Federation arranged the Open Games, an lgbt mini-Gay Games held between the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics. Even though most of the events has to be rearranged at the last minute the games went ahead defiantly and proudly in the face of possible arrests.

And that seems an appropriate place to finish. I’d love to have written more today – but that would leave less for future articles!

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