Thursday, 1 May 2014

Medal Quest : Diving into History

The countdown to the Gay Games in Cleveland and Akron has now reached 100 days. This article takes a look at some lgbt athletes who have competed at the Olympics, Gay Games and/or Outgames and who make up an unusual record.
During the London 2012 Olympics I often recorded live coverage while I was at work and looked at it later. I’m glad I did, and especially glad that I decided to save my recording of the men’s 10m platform diving preliminaries - you never know which one of them would turn out to be a future out lgbt champion (see also Matthew Mitcham below), and little did I know at the time that Tom Daley would come out afterwards. During those preliminaries I noticed that several lgbt diving champions were involved in one way or another. I thought it was remarkable that in that one event on 10th August 2012 there were at least 4 lgbt diving champions in the Aquatics Centre (3 openly gay, and a probable 4th, even without counting Tom Daley), and not one of them was there merely to watch, they each had a job to do. I don’t think there’s been that many occasions before, not where athletes are competing in a non-team event (though I’m still checking previous diving, figure skating and equestrian events). Of course, it is safe to say that most of the divers were their own national champions anyway.
1) Matthew Mitcham was the defending Olympic champion. He was the surprise gold medallist of Beijing 2008, where so much hope has been put in the Chinese diver Zhou Luxin. Winning the gold with a record-breaking Olympic score Matthew was turned into an instant international lgbt celebrity, having come out publicly before the Beijing games. I remember him from years back when he competed at the Commonwealth Games. In fact while I was planning this article I just had to dig out an old video tape of those games and remind myself of his performance. I would never have thought that the spotty, teenaged ugly duckling I watched would one day turn into such an international celebrity hunk! Although Matthew hasn’t actually competed at either the Gay Games or the Outgames he was appointed a Gay Games Ambassador and went to the Cologne games of 2010 and made appearances at many events.
2) Greg Louganis, a previous Olympic diving champion, is considered by many to be the greatest competitive diver of all time. He broke 2 records in 1988 at the Seoul Olympics by being the first man to win gold in both platform and springboard events at 2 consecutive games. However, it was what happened in the preliminary round which most people remember. Banging the back of his head on the springboard during his dive made a gasp of horror go around the pool. I needn’t go into the ins and outs of later developments in that particular incident and return to London 2012. Greg was appointed as Diving Mentor to Team USA, and was seen most days sitting in the team stand with his ipad, making notes and discussing the divers’ performances. Like Mitcham, Greg is a Gay Games Ambassador, and he chose the opening ceremony of the 1994 Gay Games in New York to come out publicly as gay.
3) Simon Latimer was one of the judges for the 2012 diving competition. You see the judges sitting in their high chairs beside the pool. If you get chance to see a recording of the 10m preliminary of 10th August 2012 you’ll see Simon sitting at the extreme left of the 4 judges during rounds 4 to 6. A New Zealander by nationality Simon was also the youngest diving judge at the 2012 Olympics at the age of 30. He has been a judge since 2008 and judged Tom Daley at the Youth Olympics, and Tom and Mitcham at the Dehli Commonwealth Games, both events in 2010. As a competitive diver Simon attended the first World Outgames in MontrĂ©al in 2006. He won 3 gold medals. His experience at the Outgames is recounted in this article on Outsportscom.
4) Tom Daley wasn’t an out diver at London 2012 (though I was one of many who thought he was likely to be gay). Perhaps being the big hope and poster boy of Team GB at the home Olympics was pressure enough. Even though he was obviously happy to only win a bronze he was already a “veteran” champion of diving having been British Junior Champion in 2005 at the age of 10. He was also the youngest ever British or European senior diving champion. In fact this year is the only one since 2005 when Tom hasn’t won a championship or gold medal – but then it’s only the beginning of May and he’s got the Commonwealth Games in July (do we dare hope he’ll follow that with the Gay Games in Cleveland 2 weeks later?)
5) Scott Cranham acted as High Performance Director for the Canadian divers at London 2012. After a few years away from diving he returned to become head coach of Dive Calgary in 2001. A 3-time Olympian (if, as with Greg Louganis, you also count a place on a team that was forced to boycot the 1980 Moscow games) Scott didn’t win an Olympic medal, but he did win 4 at 2 Commonwealth Games – a silver and bronze at each. Scott has also competed at the Gay Games winning 3 gold medals in Vancouver in 1990. The coverage of the 2012 10m preliminaries doesn’t show clearly whether Scott was at the poolside with the other international coaches. He was certainly clearly seen during the final, when he was one of the first people to congratulate the new Olympic champion. It would be unusual if he wasn’t at the poolside on 10th August.
So 4 out of 5 out lgbt diving champions isn’t a bad record for an Olympic event. In my own perfect little world I dream of meeting them all to chat about their diving achievements. It’s only a dream, but perhaps it's an idea for the organisers of the Gay Games in August to get them all on one stage.

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