Sunday, 3 July 2016

Olympic Alphabet : R is for ...


When considering which athletes can be called an Olympian the criteria is the athlete’s actual participation in competition at the games. To get there the athletes had to be selected by their national Olympic committees. This is often done based on results at Olympic trials and qualifying events.

Many athletes have competed in trials but never made the national team. Some have almost made it by being named a reserve or alternate member, someone who can be called up to compete at a moment’s notice, perhaps, in the result of a selected athlete being unable to compete. So let’s have a look today at those athletes who are not on the official IOC lists - the reserve and alternate athletes, together with competitors at Olympic trial and team selection events.

I haven’t done an extensive research of the Olympic qualifying events and trials, mainly because there are so many of them and often its difficult to determine which of the earlier events acted as Olympic qualifiers, so this can only be just a snapshot of the handful of lgbt athletes I’ve been able to find.

Nottingham had the honour of hosting the European archery championships which served as the qualifying event for the continental archers for Rio. The finals were held in the old market square just a couple of blocks from where I live. Naturally, our Robin Hood was in attendance. Unfortunately, on the day of the finals there was a bomb scare in the block of flats where and I live and I spent the whole day behind police barriers praying my home wouldn’t get blown up!

One of the earliest lgbt athletes once thought to have competed at an Olympic trial was the “Father of Computer Science” Alan Turing, an avid runner who was believed to have competed in the British marathon trials for the London 1948 Olympics. It appears that he competed in a national championship event before the trials. He didn’t compete in the actual trials due to injury.

Another Brit competed in the 1968 British figure skating championships that formed the qualifying event for the Grenoble Winter Olympics, John Curry, at that time the British Junior Champion. His second place in the championships secured him a reserve spot on Team GB for Grenoble. Even at this early stage in his career there were rumours of his sexuality circulating within the sport. Four years later he earned a full place on the Olympic team at the Sapporo games.

Across the “pond” in the USA the 1968 national figure skating championships had two lgbt figure skaters hoping for a place at Grenoble – Rick Inglesi and John Carrell. Neither of them made either the reserve or main team.

Below is the current list of the few lgbt athletes who have competed in trials and qualified as reserve or alternate team members (years given) but who never subsequently made the final national Olympic teams.
Angelo D’Agostino (USA, figure skating) 1988 Calgary
Carol Blazejowski (USA, basketball) 1976 Montréal
Gina Gomez (USA, badminton) 1996 Atlanta
Lori Lindsey (USA, football) 2012 London
Mason Phelps (USA, equestrianism) 1968 Mexico City
Alfred Reft (USA, volleyball) 2008 Beijing
Adam Rippon (USA, figure skating) 2010 Vancouver
Saskia Webber (USA, football) 1996 Atlanta
Courtney Yamada-Anderson (USA, skeleton bobsleigh) 2006 Turin

At the moment we are still in a period of Olympic selection with many trials and qualifying events still to be held. As well as the archery trials held near my home I followed the US diving trials online as well. Even before they began there was some lgbt media interest in the event centred on young diver Jordan Windle. He had already come under the lgbt radar back in 2012 when, at the age of 13, he was selected for the US Olympic diving trials. Apart from his young age the reason he attracted attention was because his parents were, and still are, a gay male couple. As far as I can tell Jordan is the world’s first competitor in any Olympic trial event with same-sex parents.

The recent diving trials may not have had any out lgbt divers but among the coaches and judges there were some familiar lgbt names. Stanford University was fielding several divers. Stanford’s Head Diving Coach is former Olympian Patrick Jeffrey. He represented the USA at the Seoul and Atlanta Olympics and acted as a coach in Sydney. Two lgbt judges were also at the diving trials – Simon Latimer and Jeff Stabile. Simon was judge at the London 2012 diving competition, and Jeff was judge at the Olympic US diving trials in 2012. Simon is an Outgames diving champion and Jeff is a Gay Games diving champion.

Some of the athletes who were unsuccessful in qualifying for Rio 2016 are likely to try again for Tokyo 2020. These include Rose Cossar (Canada, gymnastics), Ari-Pekka Liukkonen (Finland, swimming), both of whom were at London 2012; and Connor Taras (Canada, kayak) and Sam Sendel (Canada, trampoline) among others. They are names worth keeping an eye on in four years time.

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