Gay heroes in Speedos
We celebrate some great role models in the aquatic sports.
Although the Olympic charter commits the International Olympic Committee: ‘To act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement’; and ‘To encourage and support the development of sport for all’, it is widely documented that gay men and lesbians are grossly under-represented at this elite level (it is believed that at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, only 0.1% of athletes were openly gay or lesbian).
Aquatics is one of the few sports at Olympic level that seem to be getting this right and has a strong history of celebrating openly gay champions.
The nature of aquatics sports (particularly swimming or diving) means that in many ways this is a ‘safe’ sport for young gays and lesbians – requiring individual focus and never having to share too much of yourself with team-mates at a time of life when you’re likely to still be working out who you are.
So where will our gay and lesbian Olympic heroes of the future come from? It’s pretty likely that you’ll see them stepping out in a Speedo in the not too distant future. Here are three gay Olympic heroes that make great role models:
Profile: Greg Louganis, US diver
Louganis made his Olympic diving debut in the 1976 games in Montreal and went on to win his first world title in 1978. Although hot favourite to win gold in the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the US boycott (in protest at the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan) prevented him from participating.
Back in Olympic competition in the 1984 games in Los Angeles, Louganis won gold medals in both the springboard and platform events. One of the most memorable Olympic moments involved Louganis at the 1988 Seoul games where he suffered concussion after dramatically hitting his head on the springboard during the preliminary rounds. Despite his injury, Louganis went on to win gold in the springboard and again in the platform events.
He no longer competes but in 2010 he returned to diving as a mentor. He said he had stayed out of the sport for years as homophobia had made him feel unwelcome.
Profile: Daniel Kowalski, Australian swimmer
Kowalski competed in the Olympic Games in 200m, 400m and 1,500m individual freestyle events and in the 4x200m freestyle relay. At the 1996 games in Atlanta, he was the first man in 92 years to earn medals in all of the 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle events.
He retired from diving in 2002 and in 2010 Kowalski announced that he is gay, saying: ‘I felt really compelled to do it because it’s very tough to live a closeted existence’.
Profile: Matthew Mitcham, Australian diver
In winning gold in the 10m platform at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Mitcham received the highest single-dive score in Olympic history for that winning dive.
He came out in 2008, just before Beijing, following in the footsteps of Mathew Helm, another Australian Olympic diver who had come out in 2004. Mitcham was the first Australian male to win an Olympic gold medal in diving since 1924.