Thursday, 12 July 2012

Olympic Countdown

Continuing my chronicle of lgbt participation in the Olympic Games we come to 2006 and Turin which saw more lgbt winter medals than any other – 3 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze.

At the opening ceremony there was a great chance for well-known Italian fashion designers like Armani to showcase their skills. He designed the official Italian team uniform. In the opening ceremony Chris Witty carried the Stars and Stripes ahead of her team. This was her 3rd Olympic appearance in 4 years, and she hoped to defend her speed skating gold medal from 2002. Unfortunately, she finished in 27th place.

Perhaps one of the big surprises in Turin involved two other speed skaters – Renate Groenewold and Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands. Renate was hoping to improve on her silver medal from 2002. The 3000 meters was her favourite distance, the distance in which she has won the most medals. However, in Turin Renate was up against newcomer Ireen Wüst, who beat Renate into silver medal position again. Ireen was considered an outsider in the event, and at the age of 19 she became the youngest Dutch winter Olympic champion on record. Ireen also won a bronze medal in the 1,500 meter event.

Turin saw Swedish skier Anja Parson returned to improve on her medals from 2002. After winning a bronze on the slalom in Salt Lake City Anja became Olympic champion by winning gold. She also won a bronze in the combined event.

Sarah Vaillancourt is the third gold medallists from Turin. Canadian by birth Sarah moved to study in the USA entering Harvard University in 2004. She made the Canadian national ice hockey team in 2005 and took a year off from Harvard to train for the Turin games. In the final Sarah and the Canadians beat Sweden. In the Swedish team were Erika Holst and Ylva Lindberg, both making their 3rd appearance. By winning silver they improved on their 2002 bronze medals. Three months later they both came out as lesbian.

More figure skaters appeared in Turin than at any games since 1988 – 3 of them. Emanuel Sandhu returned, hoping his 2nd place in the previous Canadian championships would help him to win an Olympic medal after the disappointment of pulling out injured in 2002. Unfortunately, he finished 13th.

In 5th place was American figure skater Johnny Weir making his Olympic debut. Between these games and the next speculation of Johnny’s sexuality seemed to interest the media more than his skating. He always stated that his sexuality, whatever it was, was irrelevant and private. By the next winter games the Canadian media in particular were becoming a bit too persistent and somewhat derogatory about Johnny’s flamboyant skating style.

The American Ryan O’Meara made his only Olympic appearance in 2006 despite having been a competitive pairs figure skater since 1999. Ryan began training with new partner Jamie Silverstein in 2005 and the pair won bronze at the US Championships. Their Olympic results were not so good, finishing 16th overall. Afterwards Ryan retired from competitive skating and became a coach.

Having gone through all the known lgbt athletes, one final lgbt competitor cannot be named. This athlete was (and still is) a captain in the US army, and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” regulation, which meant that anyone serving in the American forces would be fired if their homosexuality was admitted, prevented the captain from coming out. The regulation has since been abolished and, to my knowledge, the captain still hasn’t come out publicly. The captain, who  competed in the bobsleigh competition and finished in 6th place, has not returned to the games. I do know this Illinois-born athlete’s identity, but won’t reveal it (the name hasn’t even appeared in rumours or online lists).

For all official information on the Olympics go to

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