Friday 13 November 2015

Olympic Alphabet : D is for ...


There are two Olympic decathletes who have had a significant contribution to lgbt sport. To mark this month of transgender awareness we’ll start with one of the high profile Olympians in the news this year.

The Rio Olympics next year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Montreal games in Canada. They also mark the 40th anniversary of Caitlyn Jenner becoming the Olympic decathlon champion. Caitlyn Jenner has become a media celebrity in more recent years, mainly due to his appearance in the reality series featuring the abysmally dull Kardashians. It has unfairly eclipsed Caitlyn’s sporting achievements. She was one of the major athletes on the last part of the 20th century.

The 1976 Olympics (winter and summer) were the first in which I began to have a definite interest (due to the popularity of British figure skater John Curry at the time - more of him in February). I still have the scrapbooks I made for them games. In fact, below is a scan of part of the page on which I recorded Jenner’s gold medal. I even noted it being a world record. It was the 1976 Olympics that got me started on recording the results and statistics in sport which has developed into my databases and spreadsheets on all Gay Games, Outgames and Eurogames results, and in my specialist area of lgbt Olympians.
Caitlyn Jenner has said that the first big influence on her decision to pursue sport was not the fact that her father was a US army silver medallist in the 100 yard dash, or that her grandfather ran the Boston marathon many times, but her dyslexia.

At school she felt her dyslexia was a barrier to achieving full academic achievement. Once she realised she was a good athlete her confidence improved and the fear turned into a positive attitude towards her dyslexia. Many times we hear of this attitude towards personal disadvantage being the source of greatness.

A knee injury prevented Caitlyn from competing for the football team at Graceland College in Iowa to which she had earned a football scholarship.

Caitlyn’s first decathlon was in 1970 at Graceland. Within 2 years she had qualified for the USA Olympic team. Her first Olympics were in Munich 1972. No-one really expected any spectacular results on her first games, though she did come 2nd in the javelin section and 4th in the 1500 meters and pole vault. Out of the 34 competing decathletes Caitlyn came 10th in the final results.

In the 4 years up to the next Olympics in Montreal Caitlyn’s ranking increased quickly. In 1974 and 1976 she was the US decathlon champion, and won the gold medal at the 1975 PanAmerican Games with w world record score. By Montreal Caitlyn was the only serious rival to the reigning Olympic champion.

As well as the pressure of his nation’s hopes Caitlyn had one other emotional pressure. She had decided these would be her last as a competitive decathlete.

Caitlyn finished her career on a high. By the start of the second day of the competition her place on the medal podium was assured. Before the final event, the 1500 meters, the gold medal was hers. Her final score was another world record. The final act in her competitive athletic career was to leave her vaulting pole in the stadium.

There was another lgbt decathlete at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Unlike Caitlyn he was not competing but acting as physician to the Saudi Arabia national team. It’s more than likely that the opening ceremony of the Montreal games was the only time they were in the same stadium at the same time. That other decathlete was Tom Waddell (1937-1987) and he is now more well-known as the creator of one of the biggest sporting events in the world – certainly bigger than the Olympics has ever been in terms in competitors – the Gay Games.

Tom Waddell’s life and career has appeared previously in several articles on this blog, including here and here.

Caitlyn Jenner is currently the second lgbt Olympic torch relay runner (14th July 1984 through South Lake Tahoe, Nevada – Sally Ride being the first on 8th May), and the first lgbt torch relay runner to do it twice (27th April 1996, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood). Such is Caitlyn’s significant place in Olympic history that in 1984 she became the only Olympian – lgbt or otherwise – to be a torch relay runner, to carry the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony, and serve as the reserve cauldron lighter (she wore running gear under her ceremonial uniform ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice).

Caitlyn’s 1984 torch came up for sale in America this summer. I’ll go into more detail about that sale next year when I reach the letter “T”, though I will mention that the a spokesman for the auction house said “We’ve sold about 200 Olympic torches in total … This one is special … Perhaps no athlete in history has travelled a more winding road through the various stages of celebrity than Jenner”.
Who knows when the next lgbt decathlete will compete at the Olympic Games. There’s still time for athletes to come out before Rio 2016, and it to be hoped that we can improve Sydney 2000’s record number of 52 lgbt competing Olympians.    

No comments:

Post a Comment