THIS IS MY 500TH POSTING!
As November began I couldn’t think of a suitable celebratory subject. None of the articles I’d already planned seem to be “special” enough. Then, on 11th November I found my subject.
Regular readers will know of my specialist interest in lgbt participation at the Olympic Games. Through 2012 I wrote a history of lgbt Olympians to celebrate the London games (I’m working of a revised and updated version for publication in time for the 2016 Rio games). Over the past 4 years I’ve also been trying to compile the most comprehensive list of lgbt Olympians.
And so, in the very early hours of 11th November I reached my target of being able to list 200 LGBT OLYMPIANS.
Since that November night I’ve carried on researching and several more Olympians have come out, so I’m pleased to say the list has 204 names! Previous lists have included Paralympians, but I started a separate Paralympic list and they are not included in the 204. In addition there is a list of some of the reserve/alternate team members, and add the Paralympians, it makes the published list below actually 218 names long.
You may question some of the names on my list. It depends on your definition of an Olympian. First and foremost, all the listed names are those who have been named as a playing member of the official national teams. Most people regard Olympians as athletes, but one name on the list – the first openly lgbt Olympian and first lgbt medallist – wasn’t an athlete at all, she was a sculptor.
A hundred years ago the Olympic Games included contests for art, music, literature, architecture, and even town planning. They had equal status with the sport. The only criteria for submission was that the entry must have a sporting theme. Even today the medallists of these contests are included in official statistics.
The first lgbt Olympian was Renée Sintenis (1888-1965). I intend to write about her next year so will concentrate briefly on her Olympic involvement for now. Renée specialised in sculpture of human figures and animals. One of her pre-Olympic works was a sculpture of the legendary Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi. This eventually (1932) won her the Olympia Prize. The piece she submitted for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics was a bronze statue of a footballer called, not surprisingly, “Footballeur”. For this she won a bronze medal.
Also at the Amsterdam games was the first lgbt Olympic athlete, Otto Peltzer (1900-1970). You can read more about him here and here.
Another lgbt connection in the 1928 art competition is the silver medallist in architecture Ejnar Mindedal Rasmussen (1892-1975). He designed the swimming pool, Denmark’s first indoor pool, at the Ollerup Gymnastic School. This school was set up by Niels Bukh, a gay gymnast who was de-selected from the Danish team for the 1908 London Olympics because he was too muscular and looked out of place! He later became a pioneer of modern gymnastics (and, unfortunately, one of Hitler’s heroes), and he coached Denmark’s men’s gymnastics team to a gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
Some of you may think that the art competitions shouldn’t be counted. So for those who don’t it’s a good job I’ve got extra names on the list to ensure there’s 200.
One other name may be questioned – Caster Semenya.
Caster Semenya is a South African runner who became the centre of controversy when she emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, to begin winning international races. Much speculation emerged in the media, all of it revolving around two words – drugs, gender.
Having been tested and cleared of all drugs charges Caster underwent gender testing. The media were more interested in this gender angle than the drugs and subjected Caster to public discussion on her private life, all through the gender verification process. Once completed the results were kept secret, even though Australian media reported that someone had leaked to them results which state that Caster was born intersex. Whatever the accuracy of these reports Caster was cleared to return to international female competition in 2011.
Even if we disregard the intersexual rumours one question remains – if Caster Semenya’s gender is 100% female, why keep it a secret? There’s still a question mark over the results as far as I’m concerned. And it is the non-disclosure of Caster’s full results and non-confirmation of her gender which persuades me to add her to my lgbt list. Even if you don’t think Caster Semenya should be included, the list remains at the 200 mark.
There’s one anonymous athlete on the list. A member of the Greek track and field team at the Athens 2004 Olympics has not come out but has spoken about his experiences of homophobia in Greek sport.
Next week I’ll continue my celebration by giving a few facts and figures. In the mean time here’s the full list.
NOTE : Since this list was first published on 9th December an error has been spotted. This has now been corrected and this list is the revised list as of 12th December 2014. There are now 203 names. Sorry to have cause any confusion.