Saturday, 9 August 2014

From the Far Side of the Globe : South

Let the games continue! We’re right in the middle of a great international sporting summer and over the next two weeks I’m concentrating on sport. The 9th Gay Games begins tonight with over 11,000 athletes arriving to compete for the coveted gold, silver and bronze medals. From its modest beginnings in San Francisco in 1982 the Gay Games has grown into a sporting event to rival the Olympics in its international participation. And in celebration of this fact I’ve written 4 articles on medal winners from the most far flung of locations.

I’ve looked for Gay Games medallists who come from the most northerly, southerly, easterly and westerly points on the globe.

North and South presented no problem, but with East and West, rather than go for locations on either side of 180° E/W or along the International Date Line I’ve chosen the Greenwich Meridian as my most westerly line and 180° as my most easterly. Today I’m looking SOUTH.

Bodies such as the International Olympic Committee only accept athletes who belong to official national sporting committees, events like the Gay Games also welcomes athletes who are not. Athletes can compete as individuals with no ties to sports clubs or nations and most compete as members of clubs or organisations. They may all march into the opening ceremonies in national groups, but they compete for their club. Very often teams are made up of athletes from several different countries, which is quite useful if you want to enter the football contest with a couple of friends and join up with a team who are a couple of men short.

So, which Gay Games medallists come from the most southern point?

ANTARCTICA - Yes, the Antarctic has been officially represented in international sport. Even though the following people can’t claim Antarctic nationality they both registered as being resident there, so have become the South Pole’s first official international athletes.

At the 2002 Sydney Gay Games the Antarctic was represented by two competitors, both powerlifters. Mariah Crossland and Erik Richards were both working in the US Antarctic research centre at the McMurdo (at 77°S well below the Antarctic Circle). Mariah worked in computer support and Erik was a space scientist.

Mariah, a native of Montana, USA, began working at McMurdo in 1992. She was always an active person – cycling, hiking, skiing and weight training. Down at the South Pole the weather was hardly ever conducive to outdoor pursuits, particularly during the 6 months of night they call summer down there.

Fortunately McMurcdo Station has a gym, and there were several small annual sporting contests held for the station’s thousand or so international residents. Mariah took up powerlifting after being inspired by the first powerlifting contest there in January 2002. Later that year the Gay Games were to be held in Sydney, Australia, and Mariah began to train for her first competition. Mariah was lucky enough to find Erik Richards as a training partner. Erik had competed in powerlifting competitions since he was a teenager back home in his native Alaska. He had arrived at McMurdo in 1999, and agreed to accompany Mariah to the Gay Games.

At the Gay Games Mariah competed against the Aussie Katrina Robertson, her only opponent in her Women’s Masters 90 kg category. In the squat life both women lifted 160kg, but Mariah’s attempt to lift 170 failed so they were equally placed. Mariah bench-pressed 107.5 kg to take the lead on points, but could not match Katrina’s dead-lift of 185 kg and was overtaken on points to end up with the silver medal.

Erik competed in the Men’s 100 kg Open category against Randy Evans and Steve Heyl. Unfortunately he failed in his 3 attempts to life 195 kg in the squat life and “bombed out” of the competition. Erik has continued to work in the space industry and currently lives and works in New Mexico (you can’t get much of a contrast in temperatures than that!).

In more recent years life hasn’t been kind to Mariah since then. In later 2011 she discovered she had ovarian cancer and returned to her Montana home. With the support of her partner Candace, Mariah found herself surrounded by people who helped to pay her medical bills. To make her feel “at home” when she arrived back in Montana a friends, a snow sculptor, sculpted a polar bear outside her house to remind Mariah of her Antarctic adventures. Another friend even donated some of the profits of her novel (a murder mystery set in Antarctica) to Mariah’s medical bills.

Next time we look north and travel to the far side of the globe.

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