Wednesday 16 September 2015

Olympic Alphabet : B is for ...

Yesterday the US began its Hispanic Heritage Month. To mark my own celebration of world Hispanic heritage I’ll start the month with part 2 of my Olympic Alphabet. And where better to begin than with …

At present I have identified 19 Olympians and 2 Paralympians who competed in Barcelona in 1992. There’s no room to list them all here, but they included 2 host nation athletes – Conchita Martínez (tennis) and Kike Sarasola (equestrianism). For my original 2012 “Olympic Countdown” article on the Barcelona Olympics/Paralympics please go here.

There were only 2 out Olympians – Jana Novotna (Czech Republic, tennis) and Robert Dover (USA, equestrianism). Nine other lgbt Olympians and both Paralympians (Kathleen Rose Winter and Jen Armbruster of the USA) were making their debut.

The Barcelona games stand out for 2 reasons. Firstly, they were the first in which there was no mass boycott, either by nations or the IOC. This meant that there were a record number of competing nations, which also included the newly independent nations of the former soviet block in Europe.

Secondly, they were the first games which opened all the events to professional athletes. This caused some controversy in the basketball competition with the USA fielding their “Dream Team” of the world’s top players. Another controversy surrounding their inclusion was significant to future lgbt participation. Among the Dream Team was Earvin “Magic” Johnson who had revealed his HIV in 1991. The senior Australian basketball director was reprimanded by his government for recommending his team does not play in matches against Johnson.

What it alerted the IOC to was the presence of HIV in the top levels of international sport, and that it emphasised the fact that it wasn’t just a “gay disease”. The Barcelona organising committee took the lead immediately by providing over 2 million free condoms for the Olympic athletes.

As usual lgbt athletes were joined by lgbt coaches and officials. Although I haven’t positively identified any lgbt  member of the IOC in Barcelona there was one member of a national Olympic committee present – Benjamin Cruz (b.1957).

The tiny Pacific island of Guam became a full member of the IOC in 1988 and Barcelona was their second Olympic appearance. Benjamin Cruz, Guam’s Associate Judge of the Supreme Court at the time, was instrumental in organising his nation’s successful petition to join the IOC. He acted as Vice President of the Guam National Olympic Committee until 2001 when he became its Secretary General. Cruz has been openly gay since the early 1980s, and there were the inevitable protests from evangelical groups when he was first appointed as a judge in 1984.

As far as medals are concerned, 9 lgbt athletes won medals. Four gold medals were won, with Marnie McBean (Canada, rowing) winning 2 of them. The others were won by Petra Rossner (Germany, cycling), who broke an Olympic record in the process, and Gigi Fernandez (USA, tennis).

There is one significant lgbt link between the Barcelona 1992 games and the Rio 2016 games to be held next year in …

The lgbt community in Barcelona was the first to be recorded as organising special events and community areas for visiting Olympic athletes, officials and tourists. This can be regarded as the fore-runner of the Pride House movement. The first proper Pride House was created in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics in 2010 and has gone on to become a global movement. There are now Pride Houses established during many other international multi-sport events.

Brazil will be the first to host a Pride House in South America during the Rio Olympic and Paralympic games.

Brazil has a respectable record when it comes to lgbt Olympians. As of today I have identified 5 lgbt Olympians representing Brazil. The first of these was Paolo Figueredo who attended the 1968 Mexico City games (the same games in which Gay Games founder Tom Waddell completed; Paolo has also competed in the Gay Games and is a multi-medal winner). It would not be until the Atlanta games in 1996 that the second Brazilian Olympian competed – judoka Edinanci da Silva. In 2004 she was joined in her third Olympics in Athens by 15-year-old gymnast Lais Sousa, and in Beijing they were both joined by beach volleyball player Larissa França. London 2012 saw Sousa and França competing again.

Lais Sousa was poised to become only the second lgbt Olympian to compete at both the summer and winter games (the first being Chris Witty). Having retired from gymnastics she turned to freestyle skiing and was selected as a member of the Brazilian team for the Sochi 2014 Olympics. Unfortunately, she was injured a month before the games began and was unable to compete. She came out as a lesbian just before the Sochi games began.

Even though we’re still a year away from the Rio games there are several lgbt athletes who have already been selected to compete for their nations. Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstance, the lgbt list for Rio 2016 currently consists of Tom Daley, Helen Richardson-Walsh and Robbie Manson.

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