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  WINDY CITY TIMES

The battle for gold in Rio meets other Olympic issues
Record number of out LGBTQ athletes set to compete in Summer Games
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2016-08-01

This article shared 463 times since Mon Aug 1, 2016
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The Summer Olympics that Chicago bid to host will, instead, open Friday, Aug. 5, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Games of the XXXI Olympiad, known as Rio 2016, run through Aug. 21, with a record number of countries participating in a record number of sports. More than 10,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees ( NOCs ) will participate, as 28 sports, including golf which is making its Olympic debut, battle for bragging rights in the form of gold, silver and bronze medals.

Rio was announced as the host city for the 2016 Games in October 2009, stunning the U.S., particularly the Windy City, as Chicago was the first of the four finalists to be eliminated. Rio ultimately edged Madrid and Tokyo.

So, the eyes of the sporting world now shift to the Southern Hemisphere, but with many non-sporting subplots seemingly stealing the spotlight from the athletic stars.

Safety and security is, for sure, an issue and has garnered worldwide press. Then there have been major questions about Rio's infrastructure and media reports have repeatedly questioned the athlete's village, particularly how operational and functional it is, or will be. And perhaps most prominent is the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has spread fear worldwide about its potential impact on athletes and visitors.

The gay card also has been in the spotlight, but for good reasons. Rio 2016 will have a record number of LGBTQ athletes.

Outsports and Olympic/LGBT historian Tony Scupham-Bilton have identified at least 42 out athletes who will compete, as well as three coaches. There are a record 10 out male athletes, though none from the U.S. There is also one married couple: Helen Richardson-Walsh and Kate Richardson-Walsh, British field hockey players.

In comparison, the 2012 Summer Games in London featured 23 out LGBTQ athletes. Others have come out publicly since they competed in London.

Soccer sensation Megan Rapinoe, who played for the Chicago Red Stars in 2009-2010, and WNBA star Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury are among the out Olympians competing in Rio. Also set to represent the red white and blue are Seimone Augustus ( women's basketball ), Kelly Griffin ( rugby ), Angel McCoughtry ( basketball ), Ashley Nee ( kayak whitewater slalom ) and Jillion Potter ( rugby ). Jill Ellis is the head coach of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team and Pia Sundhage, who previously coached the Americans, is now the head coach of Sweden's women's soccer team.

Gold medal Olympic diver Greg Louganis will travel with the United States diving team as an official athlete mentor, the same role he held in 2012, according to Outsports.

"Having 42 LGBT Olympic athletes is pretty cool," said Sheryl Jans, a lifelong Chicago-area resident. "This can be two-fold: stereotypical that a lot of athletes are of those persuasions, but also shows that they are people first and who they love is secondary. It shows that there is a definite ability to just be who they are and not worry about being judged.

"[Caitlyn] Jenner could have never done that during the time that she was an Olympic athlete."

Jans, who said she "absolutely" is an Olympics fan, said her favorite Olympian of all time is Flo Hyman, a volleyball player in 1984. "Before the Olympics began, I saw USA versus Japan, decked out in my Olympic volleyball attire," she said. "Flo Hyman was larger than life.

"Back then, [a nearby] 7-11 [store] had posters of the volleyball team [hanging] up. I asked them to give them to me, [but] they wouldn't. When the Olympics [ended], they set them outside for me so I [could] get them and I put them up in my bedroom. At that time, all women's sports were on in the middle of the night because women's sports weren't that important.

"I had just gotten my grandma's old black-and-white TV and stayed up all night in '84 to watch the Olympics. I couldn't function the following days during that time because I was up all night. When Flo Hyman passed away from Marfan's Syndrome, I sobbed. She was cut away in her prime, and who knows what she would have accomplished."

Jans' favorite current Olympian is Chicago-area native Candace Parker, a basketball sensation. And women's basketball is Jans' favorite Olympic sport. Jans also cherishes Olympic memories of watching Mary Decker run, "and being so excited to watch her," she said. "Zola Budd, from South Africa, was running behind her and clipped her, taking Mary Decker out. I was screaming at the TV and freaking out. Zola Budd, though, impressed me because she ran barefoot and I was amazed at how strong she really was."

Julie Colwell, of Chicago, is a lifelong fan of the Olympic Games—and now has a personal tie to the Rio Games that will keep her hooked to TV coverage and additional online exposure.

A former Evanston Township High School student-athlete is competing in track & field in Rio, representing Nigeria—and Colwell is a former ETHS teacher, having retired from the suburban school earlier this year.

"That's super exciting," Colwell said.

Margaret Bamgbose is a 2012 ETHS graduate, becoming the school's third girls track graduate to compete in the Olympics. Bamgbose is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Nigeria, who attended the University of Notre Dame, where she was an eight-time USTFCCCA ( U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association ) All-American, among other accolades.

Bamgbose lives in South Bend, Ind., and will start her job at Whirlpool in Michigan after returning from Rio.

Colwell said the U.S Women's Gymnastics team, which is filled with Chicago area products, "will be phenomenal," and added that she's most excited to watch track & field events, which "are true [competitions] in the sense of the Olympics," she said.

"I sort of piggy-back the Gay Games to the [real] Olympics. The Gay Games is just a little piece; I can only imagine what the real Olympics experience must be like."

Colwell said that "it's great" that so many out athletes will be competing in Rio.

"It's like in anything in life, the more people who are out, the more people will see that gay people are just the same as typical straight people and can do anything," she said.


This article shared 463 times since Mon Aug 1, 2016
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