He’s unlikely to break a world record or even win a medal but New Zealand’s Blake Skjellerup is likely to generate plenty of headlines if he gets to February’s Winter Olympics.
The speed skater is currently the only openly gay athlete who could compete discount links of london in Sochi, at a Games already tinged by Russia’s controversial laws on homosexuality.
The June ruling prohibits the distribution of information to minors promoting same-sex relationships and the public discussion of gay rights, but Skjellerup has promised not to shy away from the issue.
Instead, he’s planning to tackle it head on.
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And if Russian President Vladimiar Putin, who signed off the bill, is sincere when recently saying that all competitors will be welcome — “regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation” — then the 28-year-old’s potential arrival will be the acid test.
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Especially if he starts wearing the rainbow badge that has been made especially for him, one bearing the words “Blake Skjellerup — Proud 2014”.
“I will express my feelings and emotions openly (in Sochi),” the Kiwi told CNN.
“I am not going to go back into the closet in any way. I am proud of who I am.
“Yes, Sochi is about my competitive nature — it’s about me competing as a speed skater — but on the other hand, it’s about standing up for what I believe in and being proud of that.”
Skjellerup came out after competing at the last Winter Olympics, saying he had chosen not to do so beforehand in order to avoid unwanted distractions in his build-up.
In Vancouver four years ago, he reached the quarterfinals in the men’s 1000m links london silver short-track event — and he will soon find out if he has qualified for the 500m at next year’s Games.
Another reason given for not coming out prior to the 2010 Games was a reluctance to alienate sponsors and in August, Skjellerup launched an online campaign to generate funds for his Sochi participation.