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Lesbian at the Winter Olympics

Joan Guetschow shares her Story

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Did you have a partner at the time? Was she treated like family by the Olympics?

Yes, I had a partner during both Olympics. She was treated very well, I can't think of any problems. Things might be different now, but we could invite family into the athletes village. They never asked me to define anyone's specific relationship. The Olympic family is accustomed to athletes of all kinds of backgrounds. Athleticism is athleticism. I should add that the respect extended to gay athletes generally means everyone keeps their mouth shut about it. Nobody wants to affect an athlete's ability to get sponsors.

Did you have any pressure to stay in the closet, especially when traveling to foreign countries?

No, I never had any pressure to stay in the closet. At least not that I noticed!

Did you meet any other GLBT Olympians?

Yes, I met many other gay Olympic athletes, men & women. I was at a large fundraiser once & afterwards I threw an informal party for gay athletes in my hotel room. It was a big party, lots of fun. It's strange how we figure out ways to connect.

What is your favorite Olympic memory?

Nobody has ever asked me what my favorite Olympic memory. Hmmm....I'd have to say making the Olympic team the first time was extremely rewarding. After that, the best part of the Olympics is mixing with all the other athletes from around the world in the closing ceremonies. It's much bigger than just sports. It's about peace & respect & the pursuit of excellence on a global level. You can feel that energy... it's created from each person who is sharing the moment. It's amazing how it even comes across on television.

What do you think of the new ruling allowing trans people to compete?

I think the IOC is committed to providing a fair, non-discriminating competition. It's that simple. I'm proud of them for taking this historic step.

What advice would you give other lesbian aspiring Olympians about whether or not to be out of the closet?

Advice? Just be yourself as much as you can. It's important to respect yourself if you want to be your best. Plus, it makes it easier for the next gay athlete behind you. I distinctly remember the Billy Jean King story when I was young. I was relieved to know I wasn't such a freak, even a great athlete like her felt similar to the way I felt. It helped me come out at a young age.

Why do you think more athletes have not come out of the closet?

This is an easy question. Gay athletes are in the closet because they're afraid of losing their sponsorship money. Or, they're worried about how a coach will treat them. It's an enormous commitment to pursue the Olympics. Most athletes aren't willing to sacrifice their results in exchange for having people know they're gay. In my case there wasn't any money on the line so I didn't have anything to lose. Others have to face much tougher positions. The only way we'll get around this is by having brave companies like Nike, Subaru, etc. supporting athletes who have the courage to be out. Navratilova & Mauresmo are great examples of this. Rossignol always supported me, they didn't care if I was gay. I'd love to see more companies willing to pick up athletes with diverse backgrounds. It's getting there, every year is a little better. Advertising is a reflection of where we are as a society.

One last thought. I've been retired from international competition over 10 years now. I hope my information is very outdated. I'd like to think athletes who are out now don't even ruffle feathers & it's just a non-issue.

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