The Personal (Best) is Political
by Jim Provenzano
(Sunday, Nov. 3, 2002) The best aspect of Gay Games VI is the convenience of having most venues within Sydney’s city limits. There are exceptions, with all Olympic Park events more than a twenty-minute train ride from downtown. Sydney University as well is a bit of a hike.
One of the lengthiest events – the Triathlon – was also the furthest away, in Penrith, a good forty minute train ride, with connections via bus or cab, forcing these athletes to duck out of the previous night’s Opening Ceremonies a bit early, particularly those with a 4:00AM wake-up call.
Fortunately this makes for some new acquaintances along the way. With badges proudly worn, many visitors sidled up and chatted in trains throughout the day, comparing post-Opening impressions and hopes for sports events yet to come.
Andrew VanRenn and his friend, tennis player Mark Thompson, were on their way to swimming events. They compared their civil rights achievements in their home of Johannesburg, South Africa with Tom, a sprightly youth from the suburbs just getting home from a night of fun.
VanRenn’s swimming events will include 100 and 200-meter backstroke and breaststroke. He’s finding things, “incredibly well-organized, from the Opening Ceremonies to today.”
Sports groups in Johannesburg are rarely exclusively gay, VanRenn said, “because we mostly are in straight clubs. With our constitution being so liberal, we’re very accepted. I think because of that there’s no need to create a specific gay team.”
Yet he sees the goal of the Games as necessary. "To get together internationally like this really means a lot. For people who are struggling with gay rights in their own countries, to come and see this camaraderie is incredible. I think they’ll probably have goose bumps, from the time they land to the time they leave.”
“I only came out a month ago,” Tom sighed. “This is so amazing, seeing so many gay people. I mean, Oxford Street’s fine and all, but I never met a gay guy from France or Denmark or Puerto Rico before, and never in one night!” With his weekly job preventing enjoying more of the Games, Tom hopes to attend Closing Ceremonies and a few sports event over the weekend.
Created for the 2000 Olympics, Penrith’s Regatta Centre shimmered with hot temperatures and pesky flies, yet the stream of athletes swimming, cycling and running withstood the elements to scoop up the day’s first cluster of medals.
The hardy triathletes, known for swiftly jumping between the three diverse events, relaxed between the Olympic and Sprint variations on the three-part event in a stylish café behind the bleachers. Massage therapists offered complimentary help for sore muscles at a bank of tables. Some relaxed a bit too much, nearly missing the casual awards ceremony.
“Our gold medallist is upstairs having a coffee, I’m told,” the bemused, if not overworked Official announced into the microphone.
Among those more eager to accept her “hardware,” Connie Clement of Canberra (the national capital of Australia) took gold in her age group. Experienced with triathlons in ocean settings (including on only three weeks ago, which was exhausting), she doesn’t care for cold waves, but adjusts her garb with thicker swimsuits.
“I turned 55 two weeks ago, so it’s my first race in my new age group,” she said proudly.
Clement had other reasons to be proud, besides winning in her first Gay Games. “My brother, Des Sullivan, who’s been involved in organizing, was onstage and read the Official’s Oath,” proving, as in many cases, that the Games are a family affair.
Melani Mociun, a gold medal winner, prefers ocean waves with her triathlons and describes the manmade Olympic “lake” as “hot and flat with no current” compared to her native California. Mociun is a frequent competitor in US Iron Man competitions.
Having been one of many who made their way to Penrith before dawn, she joked that, “I think the drive out here was more challenging than the race.”
Berkeley, California Johan Steiner’s tie-dye t-shirt went well with shiny new gold medal (35-39 year old category), at his sixth triathlon. Steiner credits his boyfriend, also a top competitor, with getting him into the demanding sport.
“It was pretty smooth. I don’t like salt water, which is often what you swim in at Iron Man events, so it was nice,” he said. He also enjoyed the bonding with fellow teammates, and meeting people from around the world.
Although estimating that he might have ended up the second best overall, he calmly munched on his lunch as he and his boyfriend graciously drove us off to yet another venue.. With their bike in the back seat of their stylish rental SUV, draped in the tie-dye toga from their Opening Ceremonies costumes, driving on the left side of the road proved yet another exciting course of the day.
A Wave of Peace
Closer to Sydney, the roar and splash of swimmers diving into their lanes had begun to fill the Aquatic Centre pool, where many world records had been broken only two years before by the likes of local celebrity Ian Thorpe. Freestyle, medley and other events continued throughout the day. Water polo teams patiently waited for their matches, which are usually scheduled after swimming events.
Some venues are always worth trekking to, particularly a sparkling clean Olympic pool full of lesbians and gay men in Speedos.
Among the fans gazing at a small exhibit of nude male photos hanging along the small balcony overlooking the pools, Bruce Swanson and Robert Olsen from Baltimore, Maryland drew a few looks with their politically charged T-shirts, which read “NO OIL WAR IN IRAQ.”
Both Marathon, 10K and 5K runners are enjoying their third Games noted that they’ve received “a lot of positive comments,” said Olsen, “But then people probably don’t comment if they don’t like it. Mostly Americans have commented. We intentionally got these t-shirts to wear after attending the Peace March on Washington.”
They agree with the political aspects of simply attending Gay Games. “Some of the rest of the world needs to know that not all Americans agree with our president, and we don’t agree with the course he’s been taking,” said Swanson. “When you read the local papers, and compare it to what we’re reading in the States, it’s not quite the same.”
They also raised issue with the city of Sydney abruptly charging Front Runners an extra $4,000 AUS for their park Fun Run of the previous day.
“The route for the Marathon is now four laps of the same area, possibly because of some charge for closing roads,” added Olsen.
“A few thousand for a race is outrageous,” said Swanson. “That sounds more like Washington, DC!”