This article was published on August 11th, 2021
The Closing Ceremonies at Japan National Stadium in Meiji-Jingu Park closed the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games, which reported a record number of LGBTQ+ competitors across 30 countries. Of those 182 out-and-proud athletes at 2021’s Tokyo Games, the tally was more than three times the number in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, according to LGBTQ sports site Outsports. To put it into perspective, if LGBTQ+ Olympic athletes had competed as a team, they would have finished 11th in this year’s Tokyo Games.
Go For Gold
There were 55 LGBTQ+ athletes competing across 35 different sports, who won medals, five of which were claimed by Team USA women’s basketball. The gold medalists included Brazilian swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha in the 10-kilometer, French martial artist Amandine Buchard in mixed team judo; Venezuelan track and field athlete Yulimar Rojas in the triple jump; Irish boxer Kellie Harrington; New Zealand rower Emma Twigg, U.S. women’s basketball team members Sue Bird, Chelsea Gray, Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi; American 3-on-3 basketball player Stefanie Dolson, Canadian women’s soccer team members Quinn, Kadeisha Buchanan, Erin McLeod, Kailen Sheridan and Stephanie Labbe, French handball players Amandine Leynaud and Alexandra Lacrabère, New Zealand rugby players Gayle Broughton, Ruby Tui, Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman; and, of course, British diver Tom Daley, who finally took home the gold for synchronized diving at his fourth Games.
Tom Daley made headlines across social media for his knitting skills while in the stands of the Games. The 27-year old reported on his experiences at this year’s Olympics:
“I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. When I was younger, I didn’t think I’d ever achieve anything because of who I was. To be an Olympic champion now just shows that you can achieve anything.”
After earning silver for the Philippines, featherweight boxer Nesthy Petecio held a press conference to discuss her win and had this to say to reporters: “I am proud to be part of the LGBTQ community. Let’s go, fight! This fight is also for the LGBTQ community.”
Transgender Olympians Emerge Victorious
The 2020 Summer Games also saw the first out transgender Olympians, including Canada’s Quinn, who took home a gold medal as part of the women’s soccer team. As a midfielder that uses the pronouns they/them, Quinn came out as trans for this year’s Games, and previously won a bronze with Team Canada at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. Quinn stated they felt sad that “there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of the world.” After the match, they took to Instagram to proclaim: “Olympic Champions! Did that really just happen?!?”
Action Off the Field During Olympic Games
There were several stories of activism off the playing field: U.S. shot putter Raven Saunders risked losing her silver medal revoked after she raised both hands and crossed them in an “X” gesture as she stood on the medal podium.
Saunders, a lesbian, said the symbol represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet. My message is to keep fighting, keep pushing, keep finding value in yourself, find value in everything you do.” Saunders identifies as an activist and has spoken about her struggles with depression, and advocates for racial justice and mental health. She continued:
“I’m not just fighting for myself. I’m fighting for a lot more people. I want to give a shoutout to all of the LGBTQ community. Everybody that is dealing with mental health issues. Everybody who is Black. I’m giving a shoutout to everybody.”
International Olympic Committee regulations currently ban political statements or protests on the medal podium, but the organization suspended its investigation after learning her mother, Clarissa Saunders, had recently died.
There were heartfelt moments at this year’s Games as well: After winning the silver medal in the women’s quadruple sculls, Polish rower Katarzyna Zillman publicly thanked her girlfriend in her speech:
“I called my girlfriend, Julia Walczak, a Canadian woman. I showed her the medal. She confessed to me that for the last two weeks she had been one big bundle of nerves. And today she was relaxed. For me it is also a day of great relief and relaxation, after five years, when every day I thought about the race for the Olympic medal and the moment when we will win it.”
The athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games will be remembered as trailblazers for not only representing the LGBTQ+ community but doing so in a groundbreaking way that shows the entire world that people belong in every part of life, including the sports arena.