Thursday, 12 August 2021

Olympic Record Breakers

What a record-breaking Olympic Games! Who would have thought that Tokyo 2020 would see such an increase in lgbt visibility in competitive sport on a global scale. Japan has surprised me in showing such open support for the community. Yes, there have been critics and phobes, but that is the price of free thought. Without opposition there is no discussion or progress, and the Tokyo Olympics may have pushed the debate about transgender and gender variance ahead quicker than it would have done without it. The London 2012 Paralympics was a turning point in the general attitudes to athletes with disabilities in sport. They were seen as athletes, not as people with disabilities who do sport. Tokyo 2020 may have the same effect on gender identity in sport. Only time will tell if that is a good thing for sport or not.

Waffle over, let’s get on with the new lgbt Olympian list. This list only covers the summer Olympics (including Youth Olympics). Previous lists were fairly uniform, but this year I have included colour coding and more symbols to cut down on text. Since I completed this list at the beginning of this week another Olympian can be added, Argentine hockey player Sofía Maccari. She will appear on future lists. So, here is the link to the new list.

Summer Olympians

There are many other athletes who have been suggested for inclusion. As Cyd Zeigler said in this Outsports article, being told someone is lgbt is just hearsay, unless it comes from the actual athlete. Research into Olympians who have passed away is often difficult if they left no recorded confirmation, one way or the other, of their sexual identity or orientation. Several of the earliest lgbt Olympians are listed on probability based on secondary evidence. In this article I gave the reasons for excluding two Olympians from my list. There are another two names I am currently researching who would be the earliest known lgbt Olympians (both from 1908) if their orientation can be adequately determined.

Looking at the size of the list I think the time is right for a complete change. The number of athletes competing for Team Out (my name for the whole lgbt contingent) has amazed everyone. The list I compiled with my friends at Outsports just kept growing, and dozens of athletes asked to be added to the list. In fact, with over 180 members Team Out was bigger than most of the national teams. This made it difficult for me to keep up to date with what each individual athlete was doing. I have a job which kept me away from any coverage for several hours each day. Catching up on what was going on, and keeping an eye on live events, took a lot of energy out of me. I am extremely pleased that I have decided not to continue with my Paralympic lists. After beginning my lists in 2012 I can relax and watch the Tokyo Paralympics as an ordinary viewer and cheer on my own nation.

Because of the sheer amount of statistics I need to analyse I won’t bring a full account of the games today. I’ll do that in a couple of weeks after I’ve viewed all of my recordings. But there are a few facts and figures I can bring you now.

I’ll start by being a bit parochial and mention the BBC’s coverage. This year the BBC was too mean to put up enough money to pay for full broadcasting rights to the games. They were only allowed to show two live events at any time. They have justifiably received a lot of criticism because of it. However, what coverage they did show was enough to keep me, as an lgbt historian, happy. Not only was 99 percent of the lgbt Olympians shown competing (the only athlete or sport I don’t recall ever being covered was Kayla Miracle in the wrestling), but a host of lgbt commentators and pundits were brought into the studio. The main coverage was fronted by Claire Balding, who has done this over several games and is regarded as the BBC’s “Face of the Olympics”. In the UK studio there was the usual parade of past Olympic greats to help commentate and analyse the sports. These included several on my list – Colin Jackson, Mark Foster, Kate Richardson-Walsh and Nicola Adams.

In the previous article about Tokyo I mentioned the flag bearers at the opening ceremony. Apparently, Yulima Rojas, the Venezuelan flag bearer, missed her flight to Tokyo and couldn’t make it in time. Her place was taken by someone else. This was such a last minute change that even the BBC didn’t notice and still named Yulima as the flag bearer, even going further by mentioning her lgbt activism. Even I didn’t notice until I watched it again.

Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi (USA, basketball) became the first lgbt Olympians to win gold medals in 5 successive games. By doing so they toppled Greg Louganis (USA, diving) and Jayna Hefford (Canada, ice hockey) off their joint third places on the all-time (summer and winter) medal table. There’s no change at the top. Swimmer Ian Thorpe remains at the head of the summer medal table, with speed skater Ireen Wüst topping him with more winter medals.

Tom Daley (GB, diving) and Amandine Buchard (France, judo) were the only athletes to win more than one medal in Tokyo. Amandine won a gold and silver, and Tom won a gold and bronze, making him the most decorated GB diver in history (added to his medals from previous games).

Tokyo saw the most athletes making their Olympics debut at one games – 103. This is higher (by more than 30) than previous games and a remarkable achievement. Incidentally, they were an additional 71 athletes who competed in Olympic qualifying events, national selection trials or Olympic qualification rankings who didn’t make it to Tokyo. Combined with those who did make it to Tokyo this is also a record number, over 250 known lgbt athletes chasing their Olympic dream since Rio 2016. This is mainly because of the trend in more athletes coming out at a younger age and during their early careers. All these records are likely to be broken in successive future games.

Finally, a personal note. I don’t often cheer out loud when I’m watching the Olympics, but there were several times when I did. Once was when Tom Daley won his gold medal, and the other times were during events in track and field on 1st August. First was when Yulima Rojas made her last amazing jump to clinch the triple jump gold medal and a world record. Added to this was the men’s high jump when the two athletes agreed to share the gold medal, and then the men’s 100 meters and the celebrations of the two Italians who had won gold in each event. I’ve watched it several times.

Because of the volume of information I have to go through I haven’t been able to complete some of the other non-Olympic articles I had planned for this week and next week. They will be appear in due course.

Next week I’ll bring you a proper analysis and review of Tokyo 2020 with an updated Tokyo medal list. We already know that Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have jumped up to joint third place, but what about the others? Who has managed to maintain their position? Who has gone up in the table and who has gone down? And how many Olympic debutantes have made it into the top 20? You’ll find out next week.


  1. I think it’s a bit unfair to say that the BBC wouldn’t pay for full broadcasting rights, the situation is that Discovery paid a huge amount for the full rights, European wide. The BBC could never have matched that figure, and the IOC, chasing money instead of free to air visibility is to blame.

  2. I disagree. The BBC could easily match it. I agree about the IOC.