Friday 4 February 2022

Two Winter Firsts

The Winter Olympics return today surrounded by covid restrictions and diplomatic boycotts. But, as with Tokyo 2020, we should make the most of it and enjoy the spectacle of an international multi-sport event. The list o f out athletes competing in Beijing can be found here.

Last week we looked at the earliest lgbt Olympians and medallists and left us all wondering who was first. However you look at it, the first lgbt Olympic medallists were George Mallory and John Morris in 1924 for their 1922 Everest expedition. Figure skater Geoffrey Hall-Say and real-tennis player Eustace Miles may have been earlier (both 1908) if their sexuality can definitively pinned down. At the moment the lawn tennis player Leif Rovsing is the person we can prove was the first lgbt Olympian (1912).

In the previous lists that I have published the first known lgbt Olympic competitor at the official winter games (i.e. after 1924) was figure skater Ronnie Robertson at the 1958 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo. He is the first lgbt Winter Olympian to win a medal (bronze) during competition. Research I was able to concentrate on during the covid lockdown in 2020 revealed that there was an lgbt figure skater who competed at the previous Winter Olympics in Oslo in 1952.

The newly identified first Winter Olympic competitor is Peter Firstbrook (1933-1985). Peter came from that hotbed of modern lgbt skating, Toronto, Canada. A lot of Olympic skaters, past and present, have trained or coached in Toronto at some point. Both Peter’s father and grandfather were engineers. His grandfather also invented a table saw. However, his mother’s brother was Hubert Sprott, a Canadian national champion figure skater in the neglected discipline for fours – two pairs of skaters performing together.

A more detailed look at Peter Firstbrook’s life and career can be found here, but I’ll go over it briefly.

Peter entered his first national championship at the age of 14, competing in the junior pairs competition. He came third. From then on his rise in the national rankings in singles, pairs and fours rocketed. He represented Canada at the Winter Olympics in Oslo at the age of 18, finishing 5th. Gold went to the legendary Dick Button, who performed the first ever triple loop in competition.

Peter was being tipped as a future world and Olympic champion, but he decided to turn professional in 1953. He toured with several ice shows for five years before suffering an injury which stopped him from performing fully. So, he turned to training. Peter retired from skating and coaching to join an artistic commune in Mexico. He died there are the young age of 51 of pneumonia.

The first and only known lgbt member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was Angela Ruggiero (b.1980). Angela was an American ice hockey player who won one gold, two silvers and one bronze over four successive Olympics. Her first were in Nagano in 1998 while she was still a student and was the youngest person on her team. They won the gold medal in what was the first ever Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament. It is testament to Angela’s value to the team that at the 2002 Salt Lake City opening ceremony Team USA chose her as one of the eight American Olympians to act as honour guard to the tattered Stars and Stripes that was recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Centre after the terrorist attacks of the previous September (as seen below).

Angela’s final Olympic appearance as a competitor was in Vancouver 2010. During those games she was elected onto the IOC’s Athlete’s Commission. She appeared at the closing ceremony with the other newly elected member, UK’s Adam Pengelly, to present gifts to some of the games’ volunteers.

Members of the Athlete’s Commission are elected for an eight year term and are full members of the IOC during that time. Their duties include raising awareness of issues that effect athletes and advise on various related issues. Angela Ruggiero took a leading role in the commission and was elected as it’s Vice-Chair in 2014, and it’s Chair in the last four years of her term. During her final two years she was a member of the IOC’s Executive Board.

As well as being a member of the Athlete’s Commission Angela was a member of many others. Among them were the Co-ordination Commissions of the Lillehammer Youth Winter Olympics (2012-16) and the PyeongChang Winter Olympics (2012-18), and that of the current Beijing games. She has been a member of several Olympic Bid committees, and since leaving the Athlete’s Commission has become a member of the IOC’s Digital and Technology, Ethics, and Nomination commissions.

As a member of the IOC Angela was called upon to present medals at various ceremonies (London 2012 and Rio 2016), and has run in the torch relay three times (London 2012, Sochi 2014, PyeongChang 2018).

There’s no space to give justice to Angela’s full involvement in the Olympic movement and sports administration outside the Olympics. Her influence extends beyond 2022. In 2016 she was appointed as Chief Strategy Officer of the Los Angeles 2024 bid. This meant that as an IOC member she was ineligible to vote on who would by awarded the 2024 Olympics. In the end, this didn’t matter. As we know, there was only one other bid submitted, Paris, and no-one was showing any interest in bidding for 2028. So, between them, the LA and Paris Bid committees and the IOC decided to give the 2024 Olympics to Paris, and the 2028 Olympics to LA. Angela remained as Chief Strategy Officer until stepping down in 2020.

I had hoped to produce the full Winter Olympian list today. Unfortunately, I’ve been ill in the last few days and have been unable to complete it. It will produce it after the games have finished, when it will be have been fully updated with the Beijing results.

The other table that I can show you today is the current medal rankings of the Olympians who are returning to Beijing 2022. I’ll briefly go over the format. Athletes are list in order of rank. All placings up to eighth position are counted (these usually receive an Olympic finalist diploma). The WINTER rank gives that athlete’s position in the all-time Winter Olympic rankings only (any medals of placing achieved during a Summer Olympics are not counted). The FULL rank gives the athlete’s position when all summer and winter Olympics, and all lgbt Olympians are included. Bear in mind that there have been a substantially lower number of Winter Olympians (114, including Beijing 2022) than Summer Olympians (492 to date). Also bear in mind that this list does not include athletes making their debut in Beijing.

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