Thursday 29 March 2012

Olympic Countdown

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

After the terrorist attack at the previous summer games the Montréal Olympics of 1976 saw a heightened level of security. In part this contributed to the financial problems the city encountered afterwards. The same concern surrounds funding of the 2012 Olympics, and only time will tell what effect it will have on London’s future economy. But the competition at the Montréal games was still top class and is, along with the Innsbruck winter games, perhaps the games that got me interested in multi-sport events. I still have the scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings I collected in 1976.

Four lgbt athletes took part in Montréal, all of whom would appear at the Gay Games. First of all is Dr. Tom Waddell, the Gay Games founder. Having competed in Mexico City in 1968, Tom became a physician, and it is in the capacity of team physician to the Saudi Arabian team that he found himself in Montréal.

Also returning to the games was Canadian diver Scott Cranham. As I mentioned last time Scott received an injury that threatened to end his career. Thankfully, a change of coach led to an improvement in fitness and even though he hadn’t fully recovered Scott made the national team for Montréal. Finishing a disappointing 14th place he did manage to achieve world 8th ranking by 1978. Hopes of a better Olympic performance ended in 1980 with the Canadian boycott of the Moscow Olympics. After that, Scott turned to coaching and is currently coach with the Canadian national diving team and, no doubt, will be seen at the London games. Outside the Olympics Scott has 4 Commonwealth Games medals and 6 Gay Games medals.

The Montréal Games saw the first identified lgbt competitor in a team sport, the captain of the home country’s volleyball team Betty Baxter (Ewa Kłobukowska was part of a relay team in 1964, which I class it as a team event rather than a team sport – Ewa also competed solo in the same sport). The volleyball team finished disappointingly in last place having lost all their matches. However, because there were only 8 teams competing the Canadians still qualified for Olympic Diplomas (awarded to all top 8 competitors or teams).

Betty Baxter was made coach of the Canadian national volleyball team in 1979. She missed out on returning to the Olympics in 1980 because the boycott and perhaps she would have been at the 1984 Olympics if it hadn’t been for the homophobia of sport officials. In 1982 media reports about Betty being a lesbian was the reason she was fired.

Undaunted, Betty went on to be co-founder of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport with fellow Olympian Marion Lay. As a competitor Betty took part in volleyball at the 1986 San Francisco Gay Games, winning a gold medal with Team Vancouver. In 1990 on home soil she won a silver at the Vancouver Gay Games, again with Team Vancouver.

A respected advocate of lgbt issues in sport and the community Betty Baxter became the first Canadian out lesbian to run for public office in 1993. At the Vancouver Centre elections Betty came 4th with 15% of the vote.

A more familiar face and name debuting at the Montréal Olympics was US diver Greg Louganis, perhaps the best diver in history.

Greg got into diving through gymnastics. His childhood was dogged by prejudice against his racial background, his interest in dance and his dyslexia. With his own struggles accepting his sexuality diving was the only outlet to express his personality. And it saved his life. After several suicide attempts Greg’s diving proved to be exceptional and he easily earned a place on the US diving team for the Montréal games. He was 16. The big surprise, perhaps not with hindsight, was Greg winning the silver medal on the 10 meter platform. After that it was to be gold all the way. Needless to say, I’ll mention him in future Olympic posts.

Despite the financial problems the city encountered because of the games, the Montréal Olympics were very successful. However, that was to change, with the next summer games being used once more for propaganda purposes.

No comments:

Post a Comment