Matthew Mitcham has a somewhat dubious honour to accompany his richly deserved gold medal in diving.
He appears to be the only out gay man to have competed at the Beijing Olympics, which ended on Sunday.
Despite the presence in the Chinese capital of 11,000 athletes from 204 nations, there was only one who was man enough to be out of the closet.
The ladies faired somewhat better, with ten lesbian or bisexual athletes competing.
Six won medals.
There was a gold in soccer for American Natasha Kai and a bronze for Germany’s Linda Bresonik.
The USA’s Vicky Galindo and Lauren Lappin both won silvers in softball and Norwegians Gro Hammerseng and Katja Nyberg, a lesbian couple, took gold in handball.
Two German lesbian athletes competed, Judith Arndt in cycling and Imke Duplitzer in fencing, along with Australian tennis player Rennae Stubbs and Sweden’s Victoria Svensson, a soccer player.
With out athletes making up less than 0.1% of Olympic contestants, the Beijing Games have demonstrated the need for more to be done to encourage young athletes to be open about their sexuality.
Matthew Mitcham and his partner have been an inspiration to many gay young people with few positive role models.
The Australian’s laid-back manner has endeared him to people across the world, and his narrative, the struggle with his personal demons and finding contentment with boyfriend Lachlan, has been one of the most compelling at the Games.
The fact that American broadcaster NBC, despite their somewhat lame denials, clearly chose not to show pictures of Matthew with his boyfriend, or make any reference to his unique role in the Games, is a sad reminder of just how deep homophobia penetrates society.
America was not ready to see a gay athlete kissing his boyfriend.
Gays are acceptable in comedy shows or decorating interiors, it seems, but not at the Olympics.
Let us hope that by 2012, more athletes will feel strong enough to bring their same-sex partners to London when they compete in the greatest show on earth.
Sport has been called one of the last bastions of homophobia. Until sporting stars and soccer heroes find the courage to come out of the closet it will remain so.
Thanks to the example set by Matthew Mitcham, I predict many more brave and dedicated athletes will be out and proud at our Games four years from now.
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