Sunday 2 August 2015

Olympic Alphabet : A is for ...

Believe it or not the Rio Olympics begin in one year from this Wednesday. Long-term followers of my blog may remember the “Olympic Countdown” series I wrote in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics, the first attempt anyone had ever made to chronicle lgbt involvement in the Olympic movement (I hope to publish a new, more comprehensive online book version next year).

Today I begin my new Olympic-Paralympic series. Inspired by the beginning of the 2014 Sochi opening ceremony I’m taking the alphabet and looking at all aspects of the games with an emphasis on contributions from the lgbt community. I won’t link back to my earlier Olympic Countdown series unless it gives more information than I can’t include in this new series.

So, let’s get started and look at the letter “A”.

“A” is for … ATHENS  and ATTICUS
What better place to start than with ancient Greece. Even though the ancient Olympics never took place in Athens the Greek capital has a special place in the history of the modern games. It was where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, and where the 2004 games were held.

Most of the modern Olympics made use of several ancient sporting sites in Athens, frequently using the Panathanaiko Stadium. It was built over 2,500 years ago to host the athletic events at the Panathenaean Games, the games I called “The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece” (I covered these games way back in the first months of this blog 4 years ago). The stadium was used during the 2004 Athens games for the archery contest. It is also the place where the Olympic torch arrives from Olympia and is handed over to the host city.

In the year 140 the Panathanaiko Stadium was enlarged, funded by a distinguished Greek aristocrat called Herodes Atticus. During his lifetime Greece was part of the Roman Empire and Herodes was appointed Prefect of the free cities of Asia in 125 by the gay emperor Hadrian.

Herodes and his wife Regilla were also linked to Olympia. Regilla was a priestess at the temple of Demeter Chamayne and, as such, was the only woman allowed to attend the ancient Olympic Games. I’ll say more about this couple when we reach “O is for … Olympia” next year.

The customary practice of having a younger male lover (termed an eromenos) extended beyond the ancient Greek army and gymnasia. Herodes Atticus had an eromenos called Polydeukes. In around 160 double tragedy struck Herodes. His wife Regilla died after an attack (some call it murder), and Polydeukes seems to have died not long afterwards. He was only 15 years old, and Herodes was grief-stricken at both losses.

Herodes built monuments and statues in memory of both his wife and young eromenos. To Polydeukes he also commissioned funeral games, no doubt held at the Panathanaiko Stadium he had rebuilt. Herodes was inconsolable over his losses and he too died shortly afterwards.

“A” is for … ATHENS 2004
The 2004 Athens Olympics and Paralympics currently hold the distinction of having the most lgbt medallists of any games – 22 at the Olympics and 7 at the Paralympics. Of these 12 were gold medals. Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe won the most medals – 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.

The most successful sport was equestrianism with 6 medals being won, half of them gold medal won by UK’s Lee Pearson, the most highly medalled Olympian/Paralympian to date. American equestrian rider Robert Dover was making his 6th and last competitive appearance in Athens, winning a bronze medal. As well as being the male athlete who has competed in the most Olympics he was also the first openly gay male athlete to compete, which he did in Seoul 1988 (the first female lgbt Olympian was sculptor Renée Sintenis in 1928; John Curry was outed during the 1976 Innsbruck games after competing but before the end of the games so, although he acknowledged his sexuality, he wasn’t the first to actually compete as an out gay athlete).

The women’s tennis competition saw 5 former Wimbledon champions compete, including Martina Navratilova who, at the age of 47, is the oldest female athlete to compete.

Outside the sporting event, the torch relay had 8 known lgbt relay runners, including former Olympic swimming champions Mark Tewksbury and Daniel Kowalski. Prudence Mabele and Shaun Mellors were mentioned in one of my “80 Gays” articles.

The artistic director for the opening and closing ceremonies was gay director Dimitris Panaioannou.

“A” is for … AIDS
Sport has seen the loss of so many talented athletes. The Olympic Games has also felt this loss. Here are the Olympians who passed away due to AIDS-related illnesses:
Tom Waddell (1937-1987), American decathlete and founder of the Gay Games.
Ondrej Nepela (1951-1989), Czech 1972 Olympic figure skating champion.
Rob McCall (1958-1991), Canadian 1988 Olympic figure skating bronze medallist.
Brian Pockar (1959-1992), Canadian figure skater.
John Curry (1949-1994), British 1978 Olympic figure skating champion.

The website of the RioOlympics is already up and running and I love it! It’s well worth a look. The official IOC website is here.

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