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One Lesbian Olympian's Story

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Lesbian Olympic Biathlete

Olympic Biathlete Joan Guetschow takes aim.

Joan Guetschow
Lesbian Olympic athlete Joan Guetschow of Park City, Utah competed in the 1992 and 1994 Olympic games. She competed in biathlon (cross country skiing & .22 caliber precision rifle shooting). She took some time to share with Lesbian Life about her experiences as an out lesbian competitor in the Olympics. Here's what she had to say:

Many young athletes dream of going to the Olympic games. Was that the case for you?

Yes, but I grew up doing lots of different sports. I didn't focus on cross country skiing until I spent a year in Finland as an exchange student.

What was it like once you were there?

The Olympics is an enormous party where we all have a job to do in the middle of it. As far as the competition goes, it's the same thing I did every week & I was pretty much on auto-pilot. But this particular competition includes a big parade, family, media, spectators galore, lots of free clothing & everything we need at our fingertips. It's amazing how everyone wants to offer support. So we all feel pretty special to be in the middle of such a festive atmosphere. It's an amazing feat to pull so many athletes & fans together from all over the world. There's nothing like it.

What year and where were you in the Olympics?

I was in the winter Olympics in 1992 (Albertville, France) and in 1994 (Lillehammer, Norway). Women's biathlon was in the Olympics for the first time in 1992. I won Olympic trials in 1992 & 1994.

How did you do? (Did you medal?)

In 1992 I was 64th. I made an error & skied in the wrong direction. That got me a photo in Sports Illustrated with other athletes who really screwed up. In 1994 I placed 17th in the 15km event & I anchored our relay to an 8th place finish. Biathlon is the only winter Olympic event that the U.S. hasn't medaled. My 17th place is the second best american finish.

Were you out about your sexual orientation?

I was always out on the team. I came out to a few teammates & they were great about it. That made it easier to just be myself if it ever came up.

How did your teammates and coaches feel about your sexual orientation and/or your being out?

Biathletes are older than in most sports so they were very mature & respectful. We spent a lot of time in Europe where the culture is much more laid back than in the States. I don't think anyone really cared who I slept with & I certainly didn't judge what they were up to. My teammates (all straight) didn't care if we had to share a bed or shower or sauna or whatever. I think women can deal with this a little easier than guys. However, I think there were members of management that didn't go out of their way to make me their poster biathlete.

It's a military sport so the older guys have hang-ups with anything that doesn't fit in a box. For instance, even though I had the most world cup points for women in 1993, I wasn't selected for the "up close in personal" story. How could they do a story on a woman that lives with her partner out on 40 acres? It didn't quite fit. Also in 1993 I had heart surgery for a congenital problem. For three months (March-June) in an Olympic year I couldn't exercise. I came back & won Olympic trials. That didn't make any headlines because the executive director for biathlon decided to announce the winners of Olympic trials in alphabetical order. I just rolled with the punches. The best way to fight back is to just keep fighting.

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