Tuesday, 12 August 2014

From the Far Side of the Globe : North

From well below the Antarctic Circle a couple of days ago we travel to the far side of the globe and look for the most northerly Gay Games medallist. It would have been perfect if I could have found someone who lived north of the Arctic Circle (66° 33’ N) but there is one person who came from very near it. This seems strange considering there are many more settlements north than there are south.

Perhaps the best place to look for the most northerly medallist would be places like Alaska, Scandinavia, Russia or Canada.

There have been a few Alaskan athletes at the Gay Games but they have been registered as being from the state capital Anchorage (61° 13’ N). Further research will reveal if any of them came from further north. The 5-member Team Alaska who entered the Cologne 2010 games came away with 12 medals between them. Among this medal-winning team was Darl Schaaff. He has a close connection with the current Gay Games in Cleveland. He was co-chair of the Site Selection Committee who chose both Cleveland as the 2014 host city and Cologne as the host of the previous games.

Erik Richards, one athlete I mentioned last time, was from Fairbanks in Alaska (64° 50’ N), also the home town for a while of new dad Jake Bartholomy. Jake won two marathon golds, one in Sydney 2002 and the other in Chicago 2006. On both occasions he had not lived in Fairbanks for several years. I’m sure there’s another Fairbanks athlete to discover but for now I’ll name Jake Batholomy as my joint most northerly Gay Games medallist (I’ll come to the other joint medallist in a minute).

Apart from Alaska the most northerly team to enter the Gay Games comes from Iceland. Most of them have been registered as residents of Reykjavik (64° 08’ N). Being based only a few miles further south than Fairbanks Team Iceland takes the place as the most northerly team of medallists. The largest group of Icelandic competitors attended the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne. They comprised of a soccer team and a team of swimmers from the Styrmir club in Reykjavik and between them the 8 swimmers won 28 gold, 3 silver and 4 bronze medals.

Mind you, they were all pleased to actually get to Cologne in the first place. When they competed in the Outgames in Copenhagen in 2009 the Icelandic banks had recently collapsed, there was upheaval in the government, and the world recession was hitting them hard. In fact, they had to sell vegetables, condoms and toilet paper just to raise enough funds for them to attend the Outgames. That’s dedication! Things has improved slightly by the time of the Cologne Gay Games, thankfully.

But one member of Team Iceland comes from further north than Reykjavik and is the other joint most northerly Gay Games medallist (also, as far as I can tell, the most northerly Outgames and EuroGames medallist) – Bjarni Snæbjörnsson. His home town is Sveinseyri, an old port in northern Iceland which, at over 65°N, is only around 69 miles (111 km) south of the Arctic Circle. As with Jake Bartholomy, Bjarni was resident further south when he competed in Cologne 2010. On that occasion Bjarni was a member of three 4x50m relay teams that each won gold medals.

The success of Team Iceland in the pool, not only at the Gay Games but also at the Outgames and EuroGames, was key to the decision made by the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics organisation to hold their championships in Reykjavik in 2012. Until 2012 Iceland never considered itself a major player in international sport, so these swimming championships was big news for Iceland, and undoubtedly the biggest sporting event that country had ever staged until then. So due credit should go to Bjarni and his fellow Strmir swimmers for creating this legacy.

Outside sport Bjarni is an actor and drama teacher. With Sigfridur Eyrín Fridriksdottir he formed a camp musical double act called Viggo and Violetta who have performed at many Icelandic and international Pride events.

Jake Bartholomy and Bjarni Snæbjörnsson, my joint most northerly Gay Games medallists, may not have been resident in the farthest north location when they competed but I present them as representatives of the two most northern teams, Team Alaska and Team Iceland.

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