First Published: August 2004
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
Imagine yourself a new Olympic medallist, your heart racing, the crowd cheering, bowing slightly to receive your prize for the fastest run, the strongest lift, or the highest leap. With millions watching, do you wave, smile, and then unleash your rainbow flag, asks OutUK correspondent Jim Provenzano?
If you want to become the next sponsored celebrity jock on a cereal box, probably not. More often, gay and lesbian Olympic athletes - like swimmers Mark Tewksbury and Bruce Hayes, diver Greg Louganis, and rower Holly Metcalf - have come out after winning those all-important medals.
Canadian gold medallist Mark Tewksbury.
Metcalf now coaches, as does California swimmer Dan Veatch, who competed in backstroke at 1988's Seoul Olympics, when, Veatch says, "I was 23, and had not dealt with my sexuality yet. And there was much greater pressure at the trials than at the Olympics. You have to finish first or second to represent the United States. But once you're [at the Olympics], your goals change from actually competing, to making finals, to winning a medal."

Veatch admires other gay athletes (he won nine medals at the 1998 Gay Games V); but as for coming out at the Olympic level, "I don't know what it would be like now. It was more of a nonissue at that point in my life. The media, and recent legislation, have come far in 20 years, so it's easier for athletes."

At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, almost 20 gay and lesbian competitors were out, but received minor attention limited mostly to the gay media.

Convincing even the least famous of sports celebrities to "officially" come out has never been easy. Even straight athletes who comment on rumours are sometimes thought to be gay. Those who pose shirtless or who model underwear attract speculation - possibly deserved - from gay fans.

But the only practical way for progress to be made is by nurturing an environment of equality from the ground up.

At a recent panel organized at San Francisco's Washington High School, I spoke, along with Bay Area gay and lesbian athletes and coaches, about our experiences. This empowering Gay Day would be controversial anywhere else, but the school is an exception - it even has a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Chuck Louden, a coach for an international school, told of his coming out as a track coach. It was his honesty and persistence that overcame any homophobia and led to a tolerant environment. "I try to be the coach I never had," he said.

Since many Olympic athletes train in college programmes, how long before such change affects their lives? Despite the gossipy news of Durex giving out about 50 condoms per athlete in Athens, the atmosphere in the city, unlike in ancient times, seems far less romantic.
A Mexican swimmer trains in the Athens 2004 Olympic pool.
Hundreds of military guards have been hired to provide security at the event. A bombing earlier this year in Athens - and a recent power failure - further showed the city's problems as host. The BBC reported that more than two dozen workers died in the hasty rush to complete facilities.

The Olympic Games haven't been gay-friendly in, well, centuries. Its contestants may become heroes to specific communities. However, most athletes undergo years training not just for their country, but for their own glory, an obsessive personal goal to be the best, and, of course, lucrative sponsorship deals. Until gay and gay-friendly corporations offer the same benefits as Nike or Adidas, this may take a while.

Look closer to home for heroes, where future Olympians learn, and gay and lesbian coaches can teach them.


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