The Paralympics have begun this weekend. It’s been several years since I presented an up-to-date list of lgbt Paralympians so this is a good opportunity to present one now.
The Paralympic Games have always
had fewer competitors than the Olympics. I believe the number of athletes at the
PyeongChang games is about 600. The total lgbt Paralympan list is therefore
shorter and meagre in comparison to the list of over 300 lgbt Olympians.
There have been 21
athletes who have been identified as lgbt at the Paralympic Games, only 3 of
them at the winter games. Nevertheless, among those 21 athletes are some
record-holders in lgbt sport. Records which include the most number of games
attended by one lgbt athlete (Alison Jones, below), the most medals won by an
individual lgbt athlete (Sir Lee Pearson – 14, 11 of them gold), and the only
lgbt athlete in the UK to be knighted for services to sport (again, Sir Lee
It is only in the past 20
years or so that both the summer and winter the Paralympics and Olympics have
always been hosted by the same city. Until Lillehammer in 1994 there was no
guarantee of this. This is why the first known lgbt Paralympian competed at the
winter games on 1984 in Innsbruck and not in Sarajevo where the Winter Olympics
were held. That athlete was Laura Oftedahl.
Even with the steadily
growing profile of the modern Paralympic movement in the 1960s and 1970s there
were very few opportunities for people with a disability to get involved in
competitive sport. This was particularly true of winter sports. At the first
Winter Paralympics in 1976 there were only 53 athletes. Some nations were more
advanced in their provision of facilities and funding than others and it has
been in the present century when significant leaps have been made.
Laura Oftedalh was born
blind. The way she got into sport was through an organisation called Ski for
Light which helped people with impairments and disabilities to get fit,
originally this was through cross-country skiing. Laura took up cross-country
skiing in 1980 at the age of 27. By 1984 she was on the USA Winter Paralympic
team going to Innsbruck.
The Nordic nations
dominated the games, which is no surprise. In the field of 15 female
cross-country skiing athletes in her category Laura finished last. She was up
against the top Paralympians with much more experience. However, Laura came
home with a silver medal from the women’s 5 kilometer relay. Laura returned to
the Paralympics held again in Innsbruck in 1988.
It wasn’t until Salt Lake
City in 2002 that another lgbt Winter Paralympian competed. She was another
American, Allison Jones, who wasn’t even born when Laura Oftedahl won her
silver medal. Allison holds the distinction of being the lgbt athlete who has
competed in the most Paralympic or Olympic Games - 8. She is also the first of
two Paralympians to compete at both the summer and winter games.
Allison Jones was born
without a right femur and has worn a prosthetic right leg since she was 9 months
old. Her father, Jay Jones, was an engineer and helped to design and construct
devices which enabled Allison to cycle and ski. She could ride a track racing
bike before she could ride an ordinary bike, and she began skiing in a special
ski programme for people with disabilities from the age of 5.
At her first Winter
Paralympics in 2002 Allison won silver medals in the giant slalom and super-G
slalom. From then until the next Winter Paralympics in Turin in 2006 she was
ranked first in downhill skiing, slalom and giant slalom at the World
Championships. She went on to win a gold medal in Turin and a bronze in Sochi
In between her four winter
appearances Alison jones competed in four Summer Paralympics beginning with
Athens in 2004. She got the bug for cycling after seeing the 1998 para-cycling
world championships in her home city of Colorado Springs. It wasn’t until
Beijing in 2008 that she won her first cycling medal, a silver in the women’s
time trial for classification group. Her most successful of all her Paralympic
appearances was in London 2012 when she won a gold and two bronze medals.
Tragedy overshadowed the
run-up to the Rio Paralympics of 2016. Allison’s father Jay was killed in a
plane accident in July just two months before games. Allison continued to train
through her grief and was determined to go to Rio. Just before the games began
Allison had decided that these would be her last summer or winter games. Team
USA chose her to carry their national flag at the opening ceremony. Her highest
placing in her races was outside the medals with a fourth place in the women’s
Also competing in Rio 2016
is the last of our 3 lgbt Winter Paralympians. On the Canadian wheelchair
basketball team was Cindy Ouellet who made her Paralympic debut in Beijing in
2008 and she is making her winter debut this week in PyeongChang. At the age of
12 Cindy was diagnosed with bone cancer. She had dreams of becoming a
footballer or a skier. Instead she threw herself into wheelchair basketball.
But her dreams of becoming a skier have now come true. In PyeongChang she will
compete in sitting cross-country skiing on Wednesday.
It may be a few years
before the Winter Paralympics have the same number of out lgbt athletes as the
summer games. The Summer Paralympics is on a level with the Winter Olympics in
terms of out athletes. The Olympics that ended a couple of weeks ago had 15 out
athletes and the Summer Paralympics had 14.
No doubt was all wish
Cindy Ouellet and all the Paralympians success in PeyongChang.
Now, here is the link to the up-to-date
list of lgbt Summer and Winter Paralympians.