After the anti-LGBTQ policies of Russia provoked
protests at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the 2018 Winter Olympics, beginning on Feb. 8 in PyeongChang, South Korea, are shaping up to be more LGBTQ-friendly — but, as the Advocate pointed out, only 11 LGBTQ athletes have a chance to compete this year. In Nov. 2017, the UN adopted a 'peace resolution' for the 2018 Games that specifically outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexuality, paving the way for more openly LGBTQ athletes to compete at the Winter 2018 Olympics.
The elite sporting world is becoming gradually more accepting of queer athletes — the Rio Olympics in 2016 had the
highest amount of out athletes ever, with 56 competing — and the smaller numbers at the 2018 Olympics can be partially explained by statistics. Rio featured 11,237 athletes, while team numbers for PyeongChang are estimated to be around 4,000. Still, it's hard for many athletes to come out of what Newsweek writer Abigail Jones, writing about figure skating in 2014, called "the frozen closet." Which is all the more reason to celebrate those athletes who are kicking ass at winter sports and also making the LGBTQ community proud. Here are 7 LGBTQ athletes from around the world going for gold in the Winter Olympics.
Ireen Wüst, Speed Skater
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Ireen Wüst isn't just an LGBTQ legend; she's a sporting legend, period. The Dutch speed skater was
the most successful medalist of all at the Sochi Games, and has eight Olympic medals in all, four of them gold. She's openly gay, but doesn't speak about it publicly, noting in an interview in 2010 that " I want to talk about ice skating. You are not asking [teammate] Sven Kramer about how his relationship is going. So why would you ask me? If I would’ve had a relationship with a guy, you wouldn’t have asked me either." She's been competing in Winter Olympics since 2006, where she won gold in the 3,000 meters, and is so focused on gold in PyeongChang that she's ruled herself out of the 5,000 meters, which gave her a silver in 2014, to focus all her energies on shorter races.
Adam Rippon, Figure Skater
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Gus Kenworthy, Freestyle Skier
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Belle Brockhoff, Snowboarder
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Barbara Jezeršek, Cross Country Skier
Jezeršek, who is competing
for the first time for Australia in PyeongChang after previously skiing at the Sochi and Vancouver Games under the Slovenian flag, will come in as one of an elite club of gay athletes who have managed to make repeated Olympic appearances. She's married to a woman, and after a very strong showing in the Australia-New Zealand Cup and an Austrian championship last year, may prove to be an interesting competitor in the cross-country events. Her entry, as well as Brockhoff's, is particularly meaningful for Australia given its divisive gay marriage plebiscite in 2017.
Eric Radford, Ice Dancer
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Canadian Eric Radford is
on his way to PyeongChang as one of the favorites for ice dancing, where he's partnered with Meagan Duhamel on the ice. In real life, he's partnered with fellow ice dancer Luis Fenero, from Spain. The two gave an interview in French to the magazine Fugues in 2017 about their relationship and the challenges of maintaining a relationship when both partners are on elite training schedules — especially now that, as of June 2017, the pair are engaged.
Cheryl Maas, Snowboarder
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Dutch snowboarder Maas, who specializes in the half-pipe, made headlines in 2014 when she was one of the few athletes to give an overt protest at Sochi about LGBTQ rights. While she didn't medal, she used her time on-camera while waiting for her scores to
thrust a rainbow glove in the air in a power salute. While Maas, who is married to a woman, is now 33, she has given interviews in her native Netherlands saying that her time at the PyeongChang Olympics won't be the end of her career, and she's hoping to make it to the 2022 Games too.
LGBTQ athletes who are coming to PyeongChang out and proud are bringing a lot of pride not just to their countries but to the LGBTQ community in general. The world is excited to see what they'll do in the sporting spotlight.