Nearly half of openly gay athletes win medals at Olympics

Megan Rapinoe, Judith Arndt, and Carl Hester are among the openly gay Olympians to impress in London 2012

Nearly half of openly gay athletes win medals at Olympics
12 August 2012

Nearly half, 43%, of openly gay athletes have won a medal at the London Olympic Games.

In comparison to the United States, only 18% of 530 American athletes have graced the podium so far.

Out of the 23 openly gay athletes, comprising of 20 women and three men, 10 of them have won a medal solo or in a group.

If they were Team LGBT, they would have won four gold medals, one silver, and two bronze between them.

This means they would be number 19 in the official rankings, beating countries like Spain, Brazil, and Canada.

Of course these competitors are likely only a fraction of the LGBT people really taking part at the Games. If all of them were open, then Team LGBT could be much higher in the rankings.

South African Karen Hultzer, who competed in the archery women’s individual event, confirmed her sexuality to reporters during the Games.

She said: ‘I am an archer, middle aged and a lesbian. I am also cranky before my first cup of coffee. None of these aspects define who I am, they are simply part of me.

‘I am fortunate that my sexual identity is not an issue, and I don’t suffer the level of discrimination and violence that black lesbians in South Africa do. I look forward to the day when this is a non-issue and as relevant as my eye color or favorite sushi.’

Australian diver Matthew Mitcham, one of the most high profile gay athletes, has shared similar sentiments to Hultzer.

‘Ideally I would like one day for sexuality to be as unimportant and uninteresting as hair color, or eye color or even just gender in general,’ he said. ‘One day it will get to that.’

But the former Olympic champion, who narrowly missed out on the diving final, said that day was not here yet.

He said: ‘But until it is easy for sports people to come out without fear of persecution or fear of lost sponsorship income and stuff like that, or fear of being comfortable in the team environment, I don’t mind attention being brought to my sexuality in the hope it might make other people feel more comfortable.’

The Dutch field hockey team may have won just one gold medal, but has the most openly lesbian players, with Marilyn Agliotti, Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel, Kim Lammers, and Maartje Paumen helping the Netherlands’ team to win the top prize.

American Seimone Augustus helped the U.S women’s basketball team to their fifth consecutive victory, with an 86-50 win over France.

German Judith Arndt, the first solo gay athlete to win a medal, won silver in the cycling time trial.

Apart from Mitcham, the only male out athletes Carl Hester and Edward Gal won gold and bronze respectively in the equestrian team dressage events.

American soccer midfielder Megan Rapinoe was integral in the US women’s team in their gold win, finishing with four assists and scoring three goals. Also, US tennis star Lisa Raymond won bronze in the doubles event.

Rapinoe, who came out earlier this year, said it was more difficult for male athletes than for women to be open about their sexuality.

‘I think there’s a lot of gay women in sports, and it’s widely known in the team, they can live a pretty open lifestyle without being open in the media,’ she said. ‘But I think for men unfortunately it’s not the same climate in the locker room.’

London 2012 had double the amount of openly lesbian and gay athletes than Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, which had 10 and 11 respectively.

Estimates show LGBT people make up anything from 1% to 10% of the population, so it is clear the 23 athletes are not the only ones.

OutSports co-founder Jim Buzinski has said: ‘It’s an absurdly low number. Compared to the arts, politics or business worlds, sports is still the final closet in society.’

Rapinoe said coming out had bettered her game, as seen when she scored two goals for the US soccer team in the semi-final.

‘I guess it seems like a weight off my shoulders,’ she said. ‘I’ve been playing a lot better than I’ve ever played before. I think I’m just enjoying myself and I’m happy.’

Gay Games London 2018 bid co-chair Jonathan Harbourne is spearheading the hope to provide a lasting LGBT legacy from the London 2012 Olympics. Check out his comment piece for Gay Star News here.

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