Saturday 9 February 2013

On Track to the Outgames II

The first World Outgames took place in Montréal from 29th July to 5th August 2006. They were just a few days after the Gay Games in Chicago finished, and many people feared that one would overshadow the other or force athletes to chose which event to attend.

As it turned out both events proved equally popular. Montréal had an lgbt and human rights conference whose attendees are often added to the total figure for Rendez-Vous (the name of the overall sporting, cultural and conference events).

The format for the sporting competitions followed that of the Gay Games and other international lgbt events. Medals were awarded in age groups for many individual sports, like swimming and athletics. When it came to rowing, however, the sport’s sanctioning body, the International Rowing Association, said it would only recognise first place winners in each event. That meant no silver or bronze medals. Instead the Outgames organisers awarded gold medals to all heat winners as well as the winner of the final – all those in the rowing finals had already won gold by winning their heats.

The rowers included Danish Olympian Inger Pors, who won 3 gold medals ( and 2 bronzes in athletics). She was one of the organisers of the rowing competition at the 2nd World Outgames in 2009 in Copenhagen.

Even though Montréal-born Christian Hogue and his American boyfriend James McAnally finished second in both of their heats in the coxed fours, they still had reason to celebrate. They took advantage of the Canadian same-sex marriage laws and tied the knot the day after their final race. Several other athlete couples got married during the Outgames as well.

One noticeable aspect of the Outgames was the number of openly straight athletes. The organisers estimated that about 5% of competitors were not lgbt. This was about the same at the Chicago Gay Games but was less obvious. This shows how many straight athletes are not conned by the homophobia of the majority of major professional sporting communities, and both the Outgames and the Gay Games have always been accepting of straight athletes (straight Olympic hammer thrower and world record holder George Frenn took part in the first Gay Games in 1982, for instance).

The powerlifting competition saw two straight athletes from the tiny island of Tahiti winning gold medals. Tahiti also sent 3 bodybuilders, including Patrick Praud who won 2 gold medals. The overall winner of the male bodybuilding competition was Chris Fillipelli, a well-known professional bodybuilder and gay erotic muscle model.

The Montréal games were not without their fair share of more well-known names, not least of all being the games co-president Mark Tewksbury. You’d have thought that being one of the organisers meant you were kept very busy, but Mark found time to get back into the pool for a couple of events.

Tewksbury provided one of the sporting highlights of the games. In the 100m backstroke (the event in which he won an Olympic gold medal in 1992) Mark was up against an old Olympic rival, the USA’s Dan Veatch. They had both swum in the 200m backstroke competition at the 1988 Seoul Olympics though not in the same heats (Dan came 7th in the final, Mark came 4th in the B final to decide the lower places). This time it Mark finished in first place, but in the way in which medals are awarded, both men won gold for being the top finisher in their age group.

Other less internationally-known names included top Canadian speed skater Mathieu Giroux. He was one of the many straight athletes and won a bronze medal in the roller-racing marathon. He went on to win a speed skating gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.

An unusual combination of sport and politics could be found in the person of Réal Ménard, an openly gay member of the Quebec parliament who won a silver medal in the wrestling competition.

The figure skating competition saw Joel Mangs win 2 silver medals. He was a former Swedish Junior Champion and future professional dance partner in the Dutch version of “Dancing on Ice”. But he was more familiar to a lot of gay men in 2006 as gay porn actor Brad Patton.

To round up this short recap of the sport at the first World Outgames here is an almost surreal image from the swimming pool. New Zealand lawyer Jills Angus Burney competed in 5 swimming events but she broke no records. However, she was already a record holder. In 1989 she became the world’s fastest female sheep shearer, shearing 541 lambs in 9 hours – a record which she held for 18 years!

Despite fears that the first Outgames would be overshadowed by the immediately preceding Gay Games, or vice versa, Montréal Rendez-Vous and the World Outgames were a huge success. This was hinted at in the pre-games registration period when thousands of athletes signed up, though no-one was sure how many would actually turn up, especially as a good proportion of them had signed up for the Gay Games as well.

What marked out Montréal’s success was the professional organisation and an atmosphere of friendliness and acceptance felt by the athletes in the host city. Many athletes who had also competed in Chicago said that Montréal “felt better”. The Montréal organising committee had proved they were more than capable of organising the large-scale event that was envisaged from the start. Even though they and the Chicago Gay Games suffered financial losses, the success of both in such a short period of time (and relative geographical proximity), the success of both ensured that they would both continue.

In my next Outgames post I’ll look briefly at the element which distinguishes these games from any other – the human rights conference.

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