Monday 28 May 2012

Olympic Countdown

For the first time since 1952 the Winter Olympics don’t have any lgbt figure skaters when they take place in Albertville in 1992. Instead we have a biathlete and a speed skater.

American biathlete Joan Guetschow is one of the earliest Olympians to compete openly as a lesbian (Jana Novotná competed openly as a lesbian at the summer games later that year). Joan was well down in the results in 1992, but she came back in 1994 to Lillehammer and came 8th in the 7.5 km relay. What is even more remarkable is that inbetween her Olympic appearances Joan underwent heart surgery for a congenital defect. This and her open sexuality made her’s an inspiring story for the media.

Even with no figure skaters in Albertville the ice introduced another lgbt skater to the Olympics with Belgian speed skater Geert Blanchart. He finished 6th in the 1000m. He returned in Lillehammer 1994 but was disqualified in the first round. Later that year he did win a silver medal – in in-line skating at the Gay Games in New York (he also competed at the Gay Games in 1998).

Another speed skater in Lillehammer 1994 was American Christine (or Chris) Witty. I admit I don’t have definitive information regarding her sexuality, and I’ve only seen her named once in lists of lgbt athletes. Chris earns a special place in the history of Olympians I  that she’s the only lgbt athlete to compete in both winter and summer games.

Figure skaters returned at the 1994 Lillehammer games. Making his final Olympic appearance in 1994 was American Brian Boitano. After the “Battle of the Brians” at the 1988 winter games in Calgary Brian turned professional. But after a while he wanted to return to the Olympics. The rules on professional athletes at the games prevented him from realising his desire. With other professional athletes he lobbied the IOC and sports organisations for several years to change the rules.

The lobbying proved successful. The IOC changed their rules to allow several Olympic sports to admit professionals as “eligible” competitors. That’s how Olympic tennis and basketball acquired so many high-profile professionals. For Brian Boitano it meant that he too could compete in 1994 in Lillehammer. Unfortunately, he missed his favourite triple axel combination jump for the first time in his life and had to make do with an Olympic diploma for 6th place.

Also in 1994 the Gay Games were held in New York to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. For the first time in history the multi-sport event overtook the Olympics in size. In New York 10,864 took part compared to 9,356 at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 10,318 at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Competing in New York was Olympic champion swimmer Bruce Hayes. He became the first Olympic champion to become Gay Games champion. Other medallists were Olympians Mark Chatfield and Peter Prijdekker. Also there in New York were Olympic boxing silver medallist Mark Leduc and diving champion Greg Louganis, both making their first official “coming out” appearance.

For more, official, information on the Games go to

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