By Ross Forman
MONTREAL—The LGBT sports world was ever-present here July 26-Aug. 5 for the inaugural OutGames, which claimed 10,500 athletes and 1,500 conference attendees.
Many of the events seemed to carry a stronger international flavor among its mass of athletes, but many who also attended the Gay Games last month in Chicago said the level of competition was much higher in Chicago.
'The standard of play was just a lot higher in Chicago,' said Kasper Palleson, 30, who played in the gold medal basketball game in Montreal for the all-gay London Cruisers team.
The Cruisers cruised to wins in Montreal, beating teams by 60 and 70 points, 'and that's not really fun,' Palleson said. 'We really were hoping there would be more American teams here,' to raise the level of play.
Palleson said both basketball tournaments were well organized, with the edge going to the Gay Games crew.
'I'd rather get eliminated ( by stiff competition ) than go out and win by 60 points,' said Palleson, originally from Denmark.
Jet Villavicencio, 31, of Mountain View, Calif., played B-Division volleyball for the San Francisco Cabana Boys in Montreal, yet wore a Gay Games towel, hanging from his shorts.
Villavicencio played in the Gay Games for a Vancouver ( B.C. ) team.
So which event was better?
'For organization, Chicago. But for overall ( event ) presence and support, Montreal,' Villavicencio said. 'Montreal really did a tremendous job. The volleyball in Chicago was really organized. As for competition, it's better here ( in Montreal ) because it's more of an international spin to it.'
Dan Bain, a Recreation Division hockey player from Toronto who played in the OutGames, probably best summed up the gay sporting summer we've had.
'I wish there was only one tournament,' he said. 'It's too bad there were two events because that dilutes the value of the win.'
Bain, 39, a right wing, has previously played in gay hockey tournaments in New York City and his native Toronto.
'Everyone who came here came to have a good time, but once the play started, everyone wanted to win a medal,' Bain said.
Gui Dutoit won a gold medal in swimming and a silver in the triathlon. But it was the physique competition, which he did not medal in, that he probably enjoyed most.
It was, you see, the first time he had done physique and he was only doing it because his younger sister, Bernadette Beyer, competed in physique.
'She started bodybuilding 15 years ago and has stuck with it,' Dutoit said. 'She wanted to come and support me ( at the OutGames ) , so I suggested she compete as well.'
Beyer agreed to compete, but wanted Dutoit to compete in physique as well.
And that was four months ago, 'so I had some intensive training to shape up,' he said.
Now the bigger problem … Dutoit lives in British Columbia; Beyer lives in South Africa.
Beyer coached her brother via the Internet and over the telephone, telling him what exercises to do, how to eat properly, etc. She taught him his posing routine two days before he performed.
'She's an absolute star in my life, a great sister to have,' Dutoit said.
The OutGames, though, were bitter-sweet for Dutoit. His partner of 10 years, Fani, died of cancer one year earlier, on August 4, 2005.
WOULD YOU LIKE FRIES WITH THAT?
Paul Winckles competed in the physique competition's over-60 division, and had a game-plan going in for his friends back home in Perth, Australia. If he won the bronze medal ( which he ultimately did ) , he was prepared to tell everyone that there were 200 competitors, not just three.
Winckles is 62.
'The key is, don't over do it,' he said. 'I've done this on one hour ( in the gym ) , three times a week. And I eat six times a day.'
But no Big Macs or Whoppers.
'I keep clear of white flour, white rice,' Winckles said.
The one treat he's missed the most heading into the Games was croissants.
MASS OF MUSCLES
Chris Filippelli was the overall winner in the physique competition, besting the gold medal winners from three other divisions in an overall pose-down.
'I'm thrilled; that was a lot of fun, an absolute blast,' said Filippelli, 47, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who also won gold in Chicago. 'The overall ( title ) was a very big moment for me. ( My overall competitors ) all looked great and they are experienced posers.'
Fillippelli is gay; his boyfriend, Francois Trahan, was backstage to greet the champ.
Lance Green was, arguably, the best player on Toronto's Competitive Division team. The 26-year-old previously played Junior B hockey in Cambridge, Ont., and is now a salesman of patio furniture back home. He's in his second season playing in Toronto's gay league.
And, yes, he is gay; his boyfriend is a student.
The Los Angeles Blades, meanwhile, walked away with the Competitive Division title at the Gay Games in Chicago. Their best player, a defenseman, was drafted by an NHL team, scored at will in the Games and had an amazing slapshot that he was never afraid to unleash.
And, the Blades' best player was straight, playing with the Blades for the first time.
'If straight players are all right playing in our gay league ( in Toronto ) because they agree with what we're trying to achieve, which is having equality among athletes, and then ( still ) want to play, then I'm all right with that,' Green said. 'If a team is adding players just for the sake of being the most competitive team, and they're not gay ( yet ) playing in a gay sporting event, I don't agree with that.
'People stacking their teams with non-gay players, just to win the tournament, can be looked at in a grey area. But I wouldn't go for it.'
There were, of course, no rules regulating sexual orientation for the Gay Games or the OutGames. Organizers for both said about 5 percent of all participants were straight.
'If you're going to let straight people to play in the Games, then you have to allow everyone, regardless of skill-level,' Green said.
Green's team is an all-star team of sorts, with players from Toronto's nine-team gay league. They have been playing together for six months. 'We just figured that the best way for us to be competitive was to play together every week and try to get some team-cohesiveness,' Green said.
So why Montreal?
Proximity, for sure, Green said. 'Plus, we thought the competition level would be higher. That said, I certainly would have loved to have played ( the Blades ) .'
Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden dropped the ceremonial 'First Puck' before a semifinal game in the men's competitive division. He then talked to the few media members present, sat in the stands with players watching the entire overtime game and signed autographs.
His class act and gay-friendly approach shouldn't, or, wasn't a surprise.
He is now a Member of Parliament ( MP ) in Canada and a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada—and, in late-June, he wrote a newspaper column titled, Why I Support Gay Marriage Bill.
'I'm here because it's a big and important event,' he told me in an exclusive interview. 'When I'm here, yeah, I know what ( the event ) is, but it's just fun.'
Dryden also attended medal ceremonies for track & field, as well as soccer and slow-pitch softball games.
I asked Dryden if he ever expected an NHL player to reveal he is gay while active, and the politician in Dryden quickly came out.
'Wow, that's a very good question. What do you think?' he said. 'I certainly think a player will come out after retiring. But while still active? Yeah, I think it's possible. If a player ends up making it to the NHL, then it is possible.'
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA
Tony Zorbas of Toronto was well-aware of a camera snapping his picture at volleyball as he prepared to play for Team Karma.
So, trying to be sly, he rolled up his sleeve to show off his 'guns.'
Zorbas, 43, was playing in his first major gay tournament. 'Our team is all about positive energy,' he said.
Zorbas also enjoys yoga, jogging and working out five days per week.
Oh, yeah, he also is a go-go dancer.
Every sport seems to have its share of characters with, uh, unique do's. One of my favorites was Sean Curran, 34, from Galway on the western side of Ireland.
Curran sported a Mohawk with red, yellow and orange.
'I think ( the Mohawk ) helps; I might hold on to it,' after the OutGames, Curran said. 'I'm definitely more aerodynamic.'
Curran, who played for the Sydney ( Australia ) Rangers, has been shaving his head for seven years and 'just wanted to do something different' for the OutGames.
Damian Garis turned in a gold medal performance in the 400-meter Individual Medley swimming race, but, before he could even get out of the water, he was informed by a judge that he was being disqualified for the way he was swimming one of the event's strokes.
That would have been Garis' 10th medal in the OutGames. And that was his best event.
Nonetheless, Garis was the picture of class on the pool deck, never once bad-mouthing the decision to anyone, be it fellow swimmers, fans, media or organizers.
After hearing about, and experiencing first-hand poor sportsmanship at various OutGames and Gay Games events, it was a pleasure to see Garis after he 'lost.'
Garis, who lives in Toronto, claimed two gold, four silver and three bronze medals in the Games.
'I'm happy,' said Garis, who is gay and formerly swam professionally in his native Argentina for eight years. 'This was the first time I represented Canada and Canada treated me with open-arms. This was my way of giving back.'
Garis said he was most surprised with the medals he won in the 50-meter butterfly and 100-meter freestyle, 'because I went a lot faster ( in those events ) than I thought I could.'
The gold and silver that he claimed in the 4-by-50 mixed IM and 4-by-50 freestyle, respectively, are his most cherished titles—because he won them on July 31, on his 27th birthday. 'That was the best present I could give myself,' he said.
Frank Bensing, 35, a gay scientist from Germany, explained that the thrill of Roller Racing is the simple ability, 'to go fast.'
He has been competing in the 'sport' for eight years and admitted that he was nervous about the speed ( up to 35 kilometers ) when he first started, but has 'gotten used to it.'
Bensing added that he often chases bicyclists on his blades—and normally catches them.