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Gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup advises closeted athletes to remain focused on their sport

Gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup advises closeted athletes to remain focused on their sport

Speed skater Blake Skjellerup, who represented New Zealand in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, reminds closeted athletes that they need to keep their eye on the prize until they are ready to come out.

The 29 year old came out himself four months after he competed in the Olympics and finished 16th. He is one of the official ambassadors for the Gay Games which begin on Friday (8 August) in Cleveland, Ohio.

‘My advice has always been the same for gay athletes: Your sport is what makes up who you are more than your sexuality. It’s the biggest part of your life. You do it day-in and day-out,’ Skjellerup tells Cleveland Scene.

He says an athlete needs to make sure they have the proper support before deciding to come out publicly and sites the example of the NFL’s Michael Sam who had the support of his teammates at the University of Missouri.

‘The last thing you want to have is to lose your position in your sport,’ he says. ‘I know for some people that has happened, and that’s a sad situation.’

But he’s optimistic that things are getting better and will continue to improve.

‘I think as we progress, it isn’t going to happen anymore because there are people out there who are creating awareness and supporting those people who want to come out.

‘We’ve seen a lot of great movement, especially in the college level where athletes are being supported and are coming out, and the teams, colleges, everybody is getting behind them. That’s just going to trickle down to more universities, more colleges, and it’s going to make it easier for everybody.’

While staying focused on his sport but in the closet, Skjellerup started to feel his secret weighing on him.

‘I felt the pressure weighing on my performance. And once I came out, I felt that weight lifted off my shoulders, I just needed to be a good athlete. A coach, an administrator, a dean of a college or university needs to think about that: If this is going to be affecting my sports team, they’ll learn to make it an encouraging environment for LGBT athletes.’