7 LGBTQ Winter Olympics Athletes You Need To Know About
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.
1. Ireen Wüst, Speed Skater
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.
2. Adam Rippon, Figure Skater
Adam Rippon made headlines when he became the first openly gay man to qualify for a Winter Olympics team for the U.S. in history. He's been in the game for a while, but really began to shine in 2016 when he won the 2016 U.S. Championships. This will be his first Olympics, but he's already made a big impact; he's given interviews about being a "small, gay boy in Pennsylvania" who turned to figure skating as an escape, noted that he wouldn't feel welcome at the Trump White House because of his sexual orientation, and explained that being a gay Winter Olympian is just like being a straight one, "except with better eyebrows."
3. Gus Kenworthy, Freestyle Skier
Kenworthy may well be the most famous gay Winter Olympian in America. He's set to be the star of American Olympic coverage and billboards, with many sponsors behind him and a huge popular following. "I’m definitely like ‘the gay skier’ now, and that’s fine. I knew I was stepping into that role when I did it," he told the Washington Post. He's a heavy gold medal favorite, to the point where his boyfriend, actor Matt Wilkas, is being asked about Kenworthy's mood by media outlets (and has revealed that he's "grinding his teeth" due to his stress about competing).
4. Belle Brockhoff, Snowboarder
Australian snowboard cross athlete Belle Brockhoff is openly gay, but revealed that she was going to limit her protests while in Sochi in 2014 because she was afraid for her safety and didn't want to risk her "Olympic Dream." PyeongChang is not likely to offer such difficulties, but Brockhoff faced another issue: she had a serious training injury in late December 2017. She made the team regardless and is heading into the Olympics as a prominent LGBTQ athlete.
5. 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.
6. Eric Radford, Ice Dancer
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.
7. Cheryl Maas, Snowboarder
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.