Winter Olympics 2018: Gay gold medallist Eric Radford used to be bullied – now they apologise to him
The first openly gay athlete to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics grew up in a small Canadian town where he was bullied for being an ice skater.
Now those same bullies come up to Eric Radford, who retired today after earning a bronze medal in his final professional event, to apologise to him.
“When I was a kid in a small town growing up, figure skater, hockey town, it sucked,” Radford said, talking to the Toronto Star about his childhood home in Red Lake, Ontario.
When he was seven years old, Radford watched figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in the 1992 Winter Olympics, and fell for the sport completely.
As a child who loved skating in a hockey-obsessed town and realised he was gay when he hit puberty, he was bullied and pushed around, leaving him in tears.
“It was hard,” said the 33-year-old. “And not only not being accepted by other people, but there was a long time where I didn’t accept myself. And that took time.
“And I think that I just look at that, and if I had someone like that to look up to it would have been easier. And that’s what I want to be to other people.”
Now, when he goes home to Red Lake, his former bullies approach him and apologise for their behaviour.
“I really appreciate that they come up and talk to me,” said Radford.
“It probably can’t be that easy, you might feel stupid or shy, but it’s nice vindication, and it’s nice to know that I’ve worked my ass off.
“And I guess in a way it shouldn’t mean anything to me, but it’s nice to have their respect, and to know that those people have grown up, they’ve matured, and they’ve learned.”
He said that his achievements meant all the pain he endured growing up was part of his journey to a better future.
“There’s so many moments in life, or especially in an athlete’s life, where you’re wondering if it’s all worth it,” he said.
“And then you step up onto the podium and you’re like, yes. Yes, it was.
“All the time away from home, crying on the phone to my parents, dealing with the bullying, it all becomes worth it.”
He said that becoming the first openly gay man to win gold at the Winter Olympics “just brings a smile to my face.
“I think it’s incredible; I feel very proud. And I think it’s an opportunity I want to use to try to make things better.”
Radford said that he was “lucky” – after all, not everyone’s parents, brother and friends would have accepted him so readily when he came out at 18, in the early 00s.
“I remember once I came out to my mom, and it was a couple days later, and she came in and she was weepy and she said, ‘You turned out so well despite going through all of that, I wish you had told us sooner so I could have been there for you.’
“And she felt so guilty and bad that I hadn’t told her sooner, and I really was kind of on my own,” he added.
Earlier this week in Pyeongchang, bisexual skater Ireen Wüst became the most successful speed skater in Olympic history.
The Dutch speed skater teared up after winning the gold in today’s Women’s 1500m race – a record-breaking tenth Olympic medal.
Gay skater Adam Rippon also made history earlier this week, by taking a bronze medal after performing a solo skate to Coldplay’s O and Arrival of the Birds by Cinematic Orchestra.
The Team USA athlete has emotionally paid tribute to the “overwhelming” support he’s received as one of the first openly gay men to compete at the Winter Olympics.
Rippon said that it was a huge privilege to represent LGBT people in this way.
“Being here at the Olympics does give me a louder voice,” said the skater. “It has given me a platform. It’s given me a voice to reach to young kids.”
He has also been embroiled in an ongoing spat with Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the US delegation in Pyeongchang.
Rippon challenged the Vice President’s concerning stances on LGBT equality, then suggested he would not meet with Pence.
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After the skater said “I don’t want my Olympic experience to be about Mike Pence,” Trump mocked him online.
He wrote: “Really? Then Perhaps you shouldn’t have spent the past few weeks talking about him. I haven’t heard him mention you once???”
Pence in fact put out a statement suggesting that the athlete had misled the public and later sent a tweet claiming his allegations were “fake news”.