by Jim Provenzano
Of a billion people, a million may be good athletes. Of those, a few hundred thousand are great swimmers. Of those, a few thousand each year are Olympians. Of those thousands, a few dozen are divers. Of those, this autumn, at the Olympics in Sydney, of all athletes, only one, so far, is openly gay.
That one is David Pichler.
Ranked fourth in the world, the Ohio State graduate (and Diver of the Year in ‘91 and ‘92) - noted for his tumultuous coming out in 1997 that stemmed from an unruly incident on a plane between his former lover and former coach, Ron O'Brien - Pichler came out to some acclaim in the pages of “The Advocate.”
The gossip: Pichler accused Tim O'Brien, son of his former coach, of assaulting his companion, Steve Guiffre, on an airplane after the U.S. national championships in April of that year.
Tim O'Brien and Guiffre exchanged words as the plane sat on the tarmac at the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport on April 22. O’Brien later retired from coaching.
Putting the events behind him, Pichler prefers to focus on the future, and Sydney, as will many gay Americans when they watch the Olympics in September.
His form is one of grace and beauty, rivaling that of famed gay diver Greg Louganis. But this time, the diver's out. Think about it. What a way to start the new century.
I spoke with Pichler on a warm afternoon in July of last year at the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics Championships in Atlanta, where he had performed a few exhibition dives for the first time at an IGLA tournament.
Although renowned for his skill and GQ looks, Pichler remained unaffected, speaking in the clipped Ohio/Pennsylvania twang I found endearingly familiar.
But don’t expect any confessional memoirs, let alone a TV movie. Like Butler, Pennsylvania, the simple town he was raised in, Pichler is a direct, no-pretense guy.
Of his time as a privately known gay diver, he said, “among the other platform divers, we were both out and about in the diving world. I don’t know about their families or whatever.”
“My coach, Patrick Jeffrey, is the other platform diver in the ‘96 Olympic Games. We’re both out. There’s a couple other divers. I don't know how out in the diving world they are.”
Despite the tumult of his coming out, Pichler appeared relaxed about it all.
“I came out my junior year of college," he said, "never really even thought that much about it until then. I dated girls, but I wasn’t running around. I was doing my own thing in sports and school.”
But with Columbus being known as a gay-friendly town, did he feel pressure as a top athlete?
“There’s pressure in athletics,” he said. “It kind of distracted me. I felt a lot of pressure from friends; self-presssure more or less. For most people, it wasn’t that big an issue. I come from a small town outside of Pittsburgh, so coming out to my family was my biggest problem. I had gay friends. That’s kind of what brought it up.”
Due to his schedule, and the Dutch indecision about including his sport, Pichler did not attend Gay Games V. “It was also right around my national championships," he said. "I was hoping to go, just to observe. I hope to go to the next one, but not to compete.”
“After the Olympic Games in 2000 I’m retiring,” said the 30 year-old, whose sport cruelly considers competitors his age to be elders.
In the Olympics theres only three-meter and ten-meter, and synchronized. “If you make the Olympic team, you dive all events,” he said. “I’m hoping to make it on both. Either event is favored. I’m doing well in both.”
In August, Pichler placed first as part of the men's synch platform team at the US Summer National Diving Championships in Woodlands, Texas.
At the World Cup in January ‘99, Pichler placed fourth on springboard and platform, ranking him fourth in the world. Can he move up to medal status?
He remains hopeful, but modest. “You never know.”