CHAMPIONS – ANCIENT AND MODERN
One of the most
interesting statistics in the lgbt sporting community is the high proportion of
lgbt Olympic champions compared to others. But then they have a better chance
of becoming champion because of their lower numbers. Over the course of the
modern Olympics each of them has had 219 chances of winning one gold medal,
whereas non-lgbt athletes are scrambling with 17 others to win it.
When I say “champions” I’m
referring to events rather than individuals. There may be up to 15 gold medals
awarded to a soccer team but official records only count them as one. I won't include any Paralympians in the statistics as I'll feature them another time.
Using the most recent
reliable figures for the total number of modern Olympians (records for the
first modern Olympics are incomplete) we see an estimated 128,420 summer and
winter athletes officially listed, including the lgbt Olympians. With 7,475
gold medal events verified by the IOC this means 5.8% of athletes (lgbt
excluded) have become Olympic champion.
Moving to the lgbt
athletes my current list (as of 1st October 2015) has reached 213,
of whom 51 are Olympic champions. Converting this into gold medal events
(combining medallists into single team events, eg. hockey, football) we have
34. This gives a percentage of 15.9 of lgbt Olympians becoming champions, just
under 3 times higher than non-lgbt athletes. I don’t want to claim this is any
indication that lgbt athletes are better than any other because, as I said
earlier, there’s fewer of them chasing the medals. But it does indicate that
lgbt athletes are just as capable of being successful in sport.
So who are the most
successful lgbt Olympic champions? It should be remembered that most of them
were not openly lgbt when they competed. The statistics below will, of course
change over time as new Olympic take place and more athletes come out.
The first lgbt champion
was Mildred “Babe” Didrikson (1911-1956), later Mrs. Zaharias, (USA athletics)
at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. She started the ball rolling in fine style by
actually winning 2 gold medals, thereby also becoming the first of the 19 lgbt
multi-champions and the first to win more than 1 medal in 1 Olympics.
The first lgbt Winter
Olympic champion was Slovakian figure skater Ondrej Nepala (1951-1989) in
Sapporo in 1972. One other connection between “Babe” and Ondrej is that they
were both voted the best athletes of the 20th century – “Babe”
Didrikson was voted the Best Female Athlete by the Associated Press in 1999,
and Ondrej was voted the Best Slovak Athlete by his home nation in 2000.
The lgbt Olympian with the
most gold medals are Ian Thorpe (Australia, swimming) with 5, and Ireen Würst
(Netherlands, speed skating), Greg Louganis (USA, diving) and Jayna Hefford
(Canada, ice hockey) winning 4 each. Jayna also holds the record for winning
the most gold medals in consecutive games, 1 each in 4 games.
The most gold medals won
in a single Olympics is by Ian Thorpe who won 3 in his home games in Sydney
2000. He was also the youngest lgbt champion, winning all of these a month
before his 18th birthday (his most recent birthday was yesterday –
belated Many Happy Returns, Ian!) (The oldest lgbt champion has been Carl
Hester, GB, equestrianism, who was 45 when he won a gold medal at London 2012).
Sydney 2000 holds another record – the most lgbt champions in one games, an
impressive 9 individuals winning 10 gold medal events (Ian won 3 events). Two
lgbt athletes were in the winning handball team, Denmark – Camilla Andersen and
Lotte Klaerskou. As far as I have ascertained, Camilla is the earliest openly
lgbt Olympic champion at the time of the competition.
The first openly lgbt
champion can be said to be John Curry (GB, figure skating). Even though outed
after he finished competing yet before the closing ceremony of the 1976
Innsbruck Winter Olympics (he accepted the common knowledge of his sexuality
but never discussed it, he was openly gay within his social circle) he was
still the reigning Olympic champion at the time of the next games of Lake
Placid in 1980 even though he didn’t compete in them.
Those are the modern
Olympic champions. What about the Ancient Olympic champions? We have to
remember that our concept of homosexuality didn’t exit all those hundreds of
years ago. I’ve written many times of the commonly accepted practice of male
athletes having younger male sex partners. The relationship between them was
both physical and emotional. In that respect we can say all of the ancient
Olympians are the same as those homosexual relationships today.
From the lists of ancient
champions I’ve selected several which indicate more modern relationships which
seem to have gone beyond the norm and drift into our modern concept of a “gay”
Perhaps the earliest of
“gay” Ancient Olympic champion was Diocles of Corinth in 728 BC. At that time
there was only one Olympic event, the stadion race, a race around the stadium
track. Diocles was the younger partner, termed the eromenos in these
relationships, to a Corinthian aristocrat in the city of Thebes called
Philolaus. Diocles decided to go and live with Philioaus in Thebes for the rest
of his life and they were buried in tombs which face each other. It was unusual
for men not to marry by the time they were 30, and there is no record of either
having a wife, so perhaps their relationship was like our modern gay ones.
By the time Hagesidamus
competed in the 76th Olympics of 476 BC other sports had been added to the
stadion. One of these was the pankration, a round combination of wrestling and
boxing. Hagesidamus came from southern Italy and became the youth pankration
champion. He was the eromenos of his trainer Ilas. The poet Pindar writes of
their loving relationship in one of his many Olympian odes.
Finally, one champion I’ve
mentioned a couple of times over the years is Pantarkes of Elis, winner of the
boys wrestling match in 436 BC. He was the young protégé and eromenos of
Phidias, the architectural co-ordinatotr of the Acropolis in Athens and the
sculptor of the statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, at
Olympic itself. Perhaps Phidias carved the inscription on Zeus’s finer which
translates as “Pantarkes is gorgeous” during games in which he won his
There are many hundreds of
other names champions from the ancient Olympics. I won’t go into more of them
today. Next time we look at the letter D and at two lgbt athletes who are
particularly significant in the heritage of lgbt Olympians.