Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 3 - An Olympiade

Last time : (4) Otto Rahn’s search for the Holy Grail influenced the book “The Da Vinci Code”, featuring (5) Leonardo da Vinci’s alleged link to the Grail. The film version featured (6) Sir Ian McKellen, who also starred in the premiere of “Bent” a play which dealt with persecution of gay men in Nazi concentration camps, where Otto Rahn once served, and where (7) Otto Peltzer was imprisoned.
(7) Otto Peltzer (1900-1970) was a national hero between the two World Wars. I’ve featured Otto several times in previous articles, and I refer you to them here and here. Like (4) Otto Rahn he joined the SS, though this should not be seen as any indication that either of them supported the subsequent Nazi political ideals. Peltzer probably joined because he thought it would be beneficial to his athletic career, and Rahn because he wouldn’t have got funding for his Grail research. Both Ottos were seen with some suspicion by Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, and he himself questioned the Ottos. Whereas Himmler found no proof of Rahn’s homosexuality he chose to send him to Dachau camp as a guard to see first-hand what punishment gay men would receive. Peltzer, on the other hand, was suspended from the SS and in 1941 was imprisoned in Mathausen camp.

Otto Peltzer is the first identified lgbt athlete to compete in the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928. He wasn’t the only lgbt Olympian there, however, as in the art competitions there was a fellow German taking part. Her name was (8) Renée Sintenis.

In a previous article I only wrote briefly about Renée. Here I write a bit more. Renée and Otto Peltzer competed in the same two Olympics – Amsterdam in 1928, and Los Angeles in 1932.

In 1926 Renée produced a bronze sculpture of the great Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi. Paavo was as big in middle-distance running back then as Usian Bolt is in short distance today. However, it just so happens that 1926 was also the year Otto Peltzer beat Paavo in a specially arranged 1500 meters race.

Renée was one of the most successful female sculptors of Weimar Germany and the inter-war period. It was her greatest period. As my previous article on her states, Renee won an Olympic bronze medal. She also became one of the very few women appointed to the Prussian Academy of Arts.

Renée fell out of favour when the Nazis rose to power. Her life as a lesbian had not been a problem during the inter-war period in Berlin. But now she found herself on the wrong side of social acceptance. She resigned from the Academy. Sadly, much of her work, and her home, was destroyed by Allied bombing. After the war Renée rose back to prominence. She was awarded membership of the Order “Pour le Mérite” For Science and The Arts, an order restricted to 30 living members who have made significant contributions in science and art. Membership is by election of existing members after the death of one of their number.

In 1957 Renée sculpted a life-size bronze statue of the bear that is the emblem of the city of Berlin. It became an iconic symbol of post-war Berlin and makes it even more appropriate to write about Renée today, because this week the Berlin International Film Festival takes place. The main prize, the German equivalent of an Oscar, is a small statuette copy of Renée’s bear. Its one of the most prized awards in the film industry, and in 2006 it was given as an Honorary Life Achievement award to (6) Sir Ian McKellen.

Back to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. There was one particular athlete representing South Africa who links to our next individual. The athlete wasn’t gay, but his sporting influence was to have a great effect on his grandson, who is gay – (9) Jacques Snyman Wieciech (b.1973).

One look at Jacques and you can see he was built for sport. His grandfather showed him the basics of athletics while he was young and Jacques pursued as many sporting chances as he was able. He was a gymnastics champion for 6 years before he was even a teenager, then he turned to track and field, following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Again he was successful, especially in European competitions.

It was while Jacques was living in the UK that he joined the oldest gay rugby club in the world, the Kings Cross Steelers. He had played rugby since childhood, encouraged again by his grandfather who was once a member of South Africa’s national rugby squad. From then on Jacques became a typical big, butch rugger player. His physique has caught the attention of many gay men in recent years (not least his husband), and its no surprise that he modelled for Colt Studios and entered the 2009 Mr Gay South Africa contest. Which is all very incongruous when you hear that his other great talent is as an operatic countertenor.

Going back to his track and field achievements, Jacques is also a Gay Games champion. In Chicago in 2006 he won gold medals in long jump and javelin. But it his gold medal in the decathlon which provides an extra direct link to the founder of the Gay Games, (10) Tom Waddell (1937-1987). And that's who with start with next time.

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