Thursday 5 May 2016

Olympic Alphabet : N is for ...


Hopefully, readers will have recovered enough from the number crunching in my previous Olympic article to put up with another.

Today the number crunching concerns numbers themselves – the numbers of lgbt athletes who competed at each Olympic Games (again, the Paralympics will be covered in a separate article).

The table below gives a straight-forward record of the Olympic Games in which lgbt athletes have competed. I do not include the Youth Olympics in this table. Each games has one square next to it for each identified lgbt athlete. The Winter Games have always been smaller than the Summer Games, and this is reflected in the numbers of lgbt Olympians.

Not immediately noticeable is that since the 1956 Winter games in Cortina d’Ampezzo only one Olympics has no known identified lgbt athlete – the 1960 Winter games in Squaw Valley. For me, this is a very significant fact. I was born during the Olympic torch relay that led up to the 1960 Rome Olympics and I was 2 months old when those games began. Rome had one known lgbt athlete, the Canadian equestrian rider Norman Elder, so I can say with certainty that in my lifetime there has never been an Olympic Games without an lgbt athlete.

I don’t want to speculate on how much an event like the Olympics, the largest event in the media at the time, had on a 2-month-old baby, but they say that we’re all influenced by what goes on around us at that age. More of nostalgia later. Back to the numbers.

What I haven’t done is indicate how many athletes were open about their sexuality while competing. This is because there is still not enough information available on when, and if, athletes come out. Also quite a few living Olympians have been openly lgbt without declaring it to the media. Karen Hultzer is an example of this. Karen, a South African archer, was openly lesbian before competing at the London 2012 games. There’s no evidence that she would have mentioned anything about it if someone else hadn’t mentioned it to the media. Just because she hadn’t told the media, it didn’t mean she was closeted. Indicating athletes who were openly lgbt would not, therefore, be entirely accurate.


Even if the 1960 Rome Olympics had no effect on my subconscious I know that the 1976 games had the most significant effect on my future enthusiasm, and I’m celebrating my own 40th anniversary of both 1976 Olympics. I don’t remember having any real interest in the 1972 Munich games, but by the start of the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck I was hooked. The enthusiasm was influenced by the popularity of the UK figure skater John Curry who had taken UK sport by storm in a way that was echoed by that of diver Tom Daley in 2012.

Below are the front covers of the very first Olympic scrapbooks I compiled (yes, I know I’ve spelt Montreal wrong). At the time I also made a medal chart which I put on the kitchen door. I updated this every day and it’s something I did for many later Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

With hindsight both scrapbooks hold records of historical significance because of one athlete from each games who came to represent the best in lgbt sport – John Curry and Caitlyn Jenner. Both hold significant firsts in lgbt Olympism as I have written in several previous articles. John Curry was the first openly gay Olympic champion, although for many years he was reluctant to talk about it. He was outed the day after winning his gold medal, and performed at the closing ceremony as an (albeit reluctant) out athlete and was the openly gay reigning Olympic champion until 1980.

I want to give an update on the article on John Curry’s ancestry I wrote in 2014. In that article I mentioned his ancestry Benjamin Wigley and wondered if there was a connection to the Wigley ancestors of my ex-partner. In March this year I found the connection. Benjamin was born in Nottingham and was indeed descended from the same family as my partner.

Caitlyn Jenner became Olympic champion at the summer games in Montreal. She is the fist Olympic champion to become transgender.

Finally, one of my treasured items in my scrapbook is an original page from a British newspaper the day after John Curry became champion which addressed the question of the “outing”. In it the writer wondered why someone’s private life should be used to judge a person’s athletic skills and speculates if there’ll be a time when it wouldn’t matter. It’s a question which is still a large part of sport today, 40 years later.

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