Patricia Nell Warren

Vancouver Report: Gays, Crashes, National Debts and Other Issues

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | February 18, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: effeminate skaters, Elvis Stojko, Johnny Weir, Olympic debt, out athletes, Vancouver Olympics

As usual, any gay noises at the Winter Olympics are kept firmly focused around figure skating. Johnny Weir continues to stay mum about his sexual orientation, verbally anyway -- though he gayed it up as he worked the crowd during his short program yesterday evening. Any Bilerico reader who watched the NBC broadcast will know what I mean.

From the sidelines, retired Canadian champion and silver medalist Elvis Stojko, one of the reformers calling for a "return to masculinity" in figure skating, is covering the Games for Yahoo. He continues to launch his demands that "effeminate" (read gay) skaters with their "effeminate" skating styles and body language (he actually mentions wrists) should get out of the sport. Along the way, Stojko takes shots at "effeminate" choreographers too. He would like to see male skaters competing in costumes that are more "masculine" (read trousers and white shirts).

Last night, the men skated their short program -- and so many went out on the ice in tight glittery costumes and pushed the envelope on those arm flourishes that Stojko must have been having severe heartburn.

It was an exciting evening -- one of the deepest men's fields ever, with 2006 gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko coming out of retirement to challenge serious medal contenders like Abbott, Joubert, Lysacek, Takahashi and Weir. A scintillating newcomer, Florent Amodio of France, captured the crowd. But it was Plushenko, with his steely Russian resolve, who nailed the high score of the night. Lysacek and Takahashi scored 2nd and 3rd close behind Plushenko.

Weir skated quite well and got the crowd going, but made a few little mistakes. Right now, he's 6th in the standings -- so he'll have to bring it 110 percent in the long program to have a shot at a medal.

The long program's gold-medal skate-off happens tonight.

Are the Winter Games More Homophobic?

It's a funny thing about the Olympics. Only at the Summer Games is there a major visibility of out athletes -- a dozen or more at Athens and Beijing -- and they can be seen across a variety of sports, from track & field to equestrian. Their presence doesn't seem to be much of a summer issue any more.

Whereas at the Winter Games, the public and the media go on obsessing about gay figure skaters. By implication, they're alleging that there aren't any gay men in downhill skiing, bobsledding, half pipe and other snow sports that are supposedly "way more masculine" than figure skating.

Does that fact of our winter invisibility mean that winter sports tend to have a more conservative atmosphere -- one that militates more heavily against coming out? Dare I use the word "more homophobic"? Maybe. The Winter Games are even more discriminatory towards women -- ski jumping for females is still barred from the program, thanks to the influence that a crusty old-school Nordic sports cabal has with the IOC. Ski jumping is the only Olympic sport that's still "men only."

So -- are there any out athletes at Vancouver?

Outsports (where I'm on the Vancouver blogging team) just published a report that yes, there are five of them. None are high-profile, or American. All of them are lesbian women. If there are any gay or bi men competing in Vancouver, or any transgender or intersex people, they're keeping it to themselves.

Meanwhile, not all the Vancouver news noise is about effeminate skaters.

The question of who was responsibile for that shattering death on the luge run is still festering behind the scenes, with an autopsy being done on the Georgian competitor's body. Even as Vancouver authorities insist that the accident was due to athlete error, they shortened the course to slow down the speeds, and did some hasty repairs along the rail where Nodar Kumaritashvili was slammed.

As always, the media get their share of criticism -- especially NBC's obsession with the Lindsey Jacobellis story. Many TV viewers got tired of hearing her talked about, and seeing her 2006 hotdogging disaster in the snowboard cross re-played over and over. Especially since, this year, quite a few other women were having trouble staying on their boards.

Gone With the Wind...er, the Debt

Most serious are the burning questions around the Olympics' financial future -- both Winter and Summer -- and their negative influence on national debt around the world. Right now, that future is looking dim.

Canadian commentator Mitchell Anderson writes in Today/Canada:

"As tales of 2010 glory dominate the media in balmy Vancouver, a very different Olympic-related story is unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic. The fragile recovery of the global banking system is now threatened by a potential default by dept-laden Greece that could cascade throughout the EU, and the world."

That sobering statement is Anderson's lead under the headline COULD OLYMPICS UNDO THE GLOBAL ECONOMY?.

Anderson's report is worth reading for its analysis of the Greek debacle, going back to how and why Greece spent a staggering $14 billion on its Summer Games, much of it borrowed. This was almost double what Vancouver spent on its Games. According to the Greek government, some of the vast over-run was spent at the direct insistence of the IOC, who knew exactly what was going on. Growing Euro fears around Greece's possible default are punctuated by protest bombings of bank offices in Greece -- with the attack on JP Morgan yesterday the most recent in a year-long series targeting Citibank, Eurobank and others.

We may be seeing the swan song of the Olympics as we've known them. Winter and Summer Games can no longer be viewed as that mythical pot of gold -- a plum for a nation's construction industry and a convenient shot in the arm for countries large and small. Indeed, the Games are looking more and more like the sports version of credit-card culture.

Perhaps the world would be smarter to limit itself to world championships in separate sports. These can often be held in existing facilities for far less money.

Between Vancouver events, I've been remoting over to the World Equestrian Festival which was going on in Aachen, Germany since February 9th. The stands were packed with spectators who chose to forego Vancouver. Aachen has an existing and established state-of-the-art equestrian center that hosts major events -- for probably way less hemmorhaging of money than is required for an Olympican horse fest.

Unfortunately, as the world continues in its meltdown, even some world championships are bedeviled by growing political hostilities. Like the FIFA Africa Cup , held in Angola this year, which was marred by outbreaks of violence, including the assassination of three members of the soccer team from Togo.

These are all challenges that must be met, if the world's peoples -- whether LGBT or not -- are to continue meeting en masse every few years, in the name of sport.


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It does seem like the Olympics, both summer and winter, have become increasingly out of hand since LA 84. It's no longer about amatuer sports: now it's about mostly professional players who can ensure their country *wins* (mens' basketball, anyone?). Throw into the mix the boundless corporate sponsorship and the mania for all new venues every single time (The famous Birdsnest in Beijing now sits more or less empty)... and you honestly have to ask what the point of all of this is.

A couple of other notes:

-- Weir's performance to date has been technically less than great, sorry. His short program looked like he just wanted to get it out of the way so he could show off his new costume.

-- Stoyko has never forgiven the IOC for banning his backward flip signature move as "too dangerous".

-- NBC's coverage has been spectacularly awful, especially online (with the Microsoft plug in that doesnt seem to work) but with the needless and relentless product placement.

As usual, these guys could all learn from our own Gay Games on how to run a successful athletic event.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | February 18, 2010 10:41 AM

The Olympics have turned into a sports eyesore for me years ago. The prospect of huge endorsement contracts keep athletes in the closet while those same companies benefit from the public financing of needless construction. The companies that want the advertising bang of the Olympics should pay a high percentage of the costs rather than governments vying for the "honor" of hosting the Olympics. The old saw that "we will get it back in tourism later" is not working any more.

Meanwhile children are playing in dirt fields with third and fourth hand equipment in public parks. Our priorities are upside down.

"return to masculinity" in figure skating??
I never thought there was any.

In Stojko's mind, there was some "masculinity" in figure skating when he and Kurt Browning and a few others were active. Now the pendulum has swung in a different direction with many male skaters, and Skate Canada (with the support of Stojko) has started these rumblings about the need for change.

Stojko says they want to get the NASCAR crowd and the hockey crowd to liking figure skating, and they believe this will never happen as long as the ice abounds with men in tight glittery costumes who skate "artistically" -- whether they're gay or not.

I'm not sure I get how they are going to make figure skating more "masculine". (Aren't they calling it ice dancing now or did I misunderstand somewhere?)

Maybe just give the male skaters hockey sticks, sports uniforms and protective gear, while having them skate drills with a few jumps thrown in somehow?

To get the NASCAR crowd, maybe make them dodge go-cart sized NASCAR vehicle replicas while attempting to do their more "masculine" drills? Or maybe dodge ice racing motorcycles?

{Sometimes, I'm kind of glad I'm not really into sports all that much. Although it does seem to make social interaction easier if you can at least sort of act interested once in a while. ;) }

That is really disappointing to hear about Elvis Stojko and Skate Canada. As a Canadian and lover of figure skating, it was thrilling to watch Elvis skate over the years. But I think a call for "masculinity" in figure skating is ridiculous. Skaters should be able to express themselves as they see fit, within whatever rules the ISU sets. And despite glittery costumes (mostly black with white or silver in the short, it seemed), I saw plenty of men who did not seem to me to be at all effeminate. Heck, lots of male figure skaters idolize Elvis, and his style.

Maybe they can return to masculinity, like we find in football, and slap each other's asses and wear tight pants.

Two Quebec sports commentators in a broadcast used derogatory language about Johnny Weir, saying he should be submitted to gender testing and saying that he is a bad influence on young people.

The Conseil québécois des gais et lesbiennes has demanded an apology.

Thanks for putting that up, Matt; this just two months after Quebec's Justice Minister, Kathhleen Weil launched the government's "Quebec Policy Against Homophobia." Just shows how important such a policy is.

I'm old enough to remember all the coded homophobia around Toller Cranston, when he revolutionized men's figure skating in Canada in the 1970s. He was a true artist on (and off!) the ice and his routines were dazzling. He was consistently penalized by judges and critics for his "flamboyance."

CBC Radio's The Current did a segment on LGBT athletes yesterday morning, with great comments from out Canadian gold medalist (swimming, Barcelona) Mark Tewkesbury. They were mostly interested in when a gay (male)hockey player will come out and how that will affect that particular "arena of masculinity." You can catch the podcast at cbc.ca/thecurrent/. The piece is titled Pride House.

It was never quite confirmed but for a while, there was a rumour that Stephane Richer, who played for the Montréal Canadiens, was dating Québec singer Roch Voisine. If they werent dating, they were certainly seen out together a lot... and I mean a lot.

Speaking of gay male skiers, is it just me or did anybody else's gaydar ping on mogul silver medalist Dale Begg-Smith?