Tuesday 8 May 2012

Olympic Countdown

The Seoul Olympics of 1988 were first to return to some form of normality, with only 3 countries supporting North Korea’s boycott.

It was also when we really begin to see the variety of sports that lgbt athletes participate in at a high level – track and field, rowing, cycling, equestrianism, diving, swimming and tennis (4 sports with more than 1 competitor). Even though 13 lgbt athletes in total competed, none of them were out at the time. Returning to the games were Robert Dover, Beate Peters and Greg Louganis.

Greg is remembered more for his accident than becoming the first diver to win springboard and platform gold at consecutive games. While competing in the finals he hit his head on the springboard. What the public and officials were not aware of was that earlier in the year Greg have been diagnosed HIV+. No precautions were taken to stop the pool, doctors, officials or fellow divers from being infected from his bleeding wound.

With hindsight keeping his HIV status secret seems irresponsible, but at the time the AIDS crisis and general homophobia within sport scared Greg into silence. On the other hand, was it right to assume Greg was straight and not infected, and should the IOC not have taken precautions anyway? It wasn’t until 1995 that Greg admitted he was HIV+, only a year after coming out publicly at the Gay Games in New York.

Away from the controversy was a welcome addition to the 1988 Olympics. After and absence of 60 years tennis was reintroduced to the games after being a demonstration sport in 1984, and tennis players form the largest group of female lgbt Olympians, 6 of them being Wimbledon singles or doubles champions.

The first official lgbt tennis Olympian was Jana Novotná. In 1988 Jana was earning a reputation as an emerging star of the doubles circuit, winning the US and Australian Opens that year. In the Olympic final Jana and doubles partner Helena Suková were beaten into the silver position by Zina Garrison and Pam Shriver.

Back in the pool we have future Olympic champion from Canada Mark Tewksbury making his debut. He was to create ripples in more ways than one, as we shall see in future posts. But for now the ripples he was making were also silver ones. Mark was Commonwealth Games backstroke champion, a stroke he excelled in. At the Olympics he could only get a diploma for 5th place in the 100m backstroke, but he did win a silver with the 4x100m medley relay team.

Competing against Mark in the 200m backstroke was American Dan Veatch. Dan finished in 7th place in the final while Mark finished 4th in the B final (12th place overall). Dan Veatch went on to compete in the Gay Games, winning 13 gold medals.

The remaining lgbt athletes were all making their Olympic debut. They were Sherri Cassuto (USA, rowing), Patrick Jeffrey (USA, diving), Brian Marshall (Canada, athletics), Inger Pors Olsen (Denmark, rowing), Craig Rogerson (Australia, diving), and Petra Rossner (East Germany, cycling). I’ll be saying more about some of these in the future.
For more, official, information on the Games go to www.london2012.com  

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