First openly gay men expected to compete in Pyeongcheng Winter Olympics
The Olympic Games demonstrate the peak of human strength, bravery, and dedication. Every four years, the greatest athletes in the world gather to break records and compete for the title of Olympic champion. However, the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongcheng, South Korea are breaking a new kind of record. Three men, expected to be announced to the Canadian and American Olympic teams in the coming days, are to be the first openly gay Olympic athletes competing at a Winter Olympics.
On January 7, 2018 Adam Rippon was announced as a member of the American Olympic team as a figure skater. After first emerging on the figure skating scene in 2009, Rippon has competed in countless national and international competitions, frequently placing in the top 5. Rippon is best known for his quadruple lutz, an extremely difficult jump, as well as his “Rippon lutz”, the same jump with only three rotations while maintaining one arm in the air. This will be the first Olympics for the 28-year-old, who came out in 2015.
Expected to be announced before the end of the month as an addition to the American Olympic team is Gus Kenworthy. The freestyle skier competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics while closeted, taking home the silver medal. He has also won AFP World Championships overall titles, as well as placing first at the World Cup Men’s Halfpipe two years in a row. Kenworthy gained popularity after he became the face of the stray dog crisis in Sochi during the 2014 Olympics, which resulted in Kenworthy staying in Russia an extra month after competing to try and house many of the dogs, including adopting five himself.
Another addition was announced on January 15th, 2018, this time to the Canadian team, with seasoned pairs figure skaters, Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel. Radford and his partner are seven-time Canadian national champions, two-time world champions, and Olympic silver medalists in the team event at Sochi in 2014. In December of that year, Radford came out as gay, making this 2018 Olympics his first as a publically gay athlete.
Openly gay, lesbian and bisexual athletes are a rarity when it comes to the Olympic Games. The summer Olympics are known to have a larger percentage of LGBTQ+ athletes, with 23 out of 10,768 athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and 64 LGBTQ+ athletes out of 10,444 athletes at the Summer Olympics in Rio. However, the majority of these openly LGBTQ+ athletes are female, and the numbers severely decrease when looking at the Winter Olympics. In 2010 at the Vancouver Olympic Games, only six out of 2,566 athletes were openly bisexual or lesbian, and no openly gay men competed. In Sochi in 2014, only seven openly lesbian athletes competed, who were again, all women.
There are a number of reasons given for the lack of openly gay male athletes in the past 2000 years of Olympic games. First and foremost, extreme masculinity is fostered through competitive sports, and many fear rejection by teammates or fellow athletes if they come out as gay due to the implication their sexual orientation makes them weaker or effeminate. Many athletes also rely on sponsorship funding in order to achieve their Olympic dreams, and there is a fear that coming out would result in a loss of much needed sponsor funds. For countries where being gay is illegal, such as Jamaica, it goes without saying that a publically out athlete would become a social pariah, and never be nominated to the Olympic team. At the Sochi Olympics, gay rights took centre stage as the Russian government refused to build a Pride House for LGBTQ+ athletes, spectators, and coaches. The 2013 law banning “gay propaganda” was cited as the reason for the refusal. This led many LGBTQ+ athletes to fear for their safety and treatment by Russian officials.
However, Rippon, Kenworthy, and Radford strive to change the Olympic environment to be welcoming for all sexual orientations. By being the first openly gay men to compete in a Winter Olympics, these men hope to dismiss fears of social rejection and lack of funding by demonstrating their positive experience of coming out in sport. Kenworthy even received increased sponsorship after coming out from companies such as Visa and Under Armor. Their message to young closeted athletes is not one of strife and struggle, but of equal if not surpassing success to straight athletes. Come February 9th, these men will not only be blazing a trail for LGBTQ+ athletes behind them, but they will be thriving on this trail. As figure skater Adam Rippon put it when asked about competing as an openly gay athlete, “it’s exactly like being a straight athlete except with better eyebrows.”