Gay men are winning this year’s Winter Olympics – and making it a joy to watch

Eric Radford is the first voluntarily out gay man to win a gold medal, while Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy have achieved other firsts on the slopes

You mentioned London fashion week last week, but have totally ignored the major cultural event happening right now. What have we learned from the Winter Olympics?

James, by email

Ah, the Winter Olympics! That giant paean to ancient sports you didn’t even know existed, such as the universally popular pastime of combining skiing and shooting, AKA the biathlon, and the equally beloved sport of chucking a kettle across a frozen lake, AKA curling. These are now coupled with various jazzy events involving people doing acrobatics on snowboards, which were quite possibly added because all that kettle chucking wasn’t really bringing in the TV viewers any more. What, really, can you say about a global event in which pretty much all the winners every year are Norwegian, Canadian or Swiss? They should just rename the Winter Olympics the Celebration of all Things White.

But this year is a little more inclusive than usual, because the major winners aren’t men and women called Jens and Ulrike. Nope, the winner is Gayland and all who reside within it – and thus, by extension, the rest of humanity.

There are a record number of openly gay athletes in this competition, including Canada’s Eric Radford, who is the first voluntarily out male athlete to win gold at the Winter Olympics. US freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy kicked off as he damn well meant to go on by tweeting on the opening day: “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it,” with photos of him alongside Adam Rippon. Rest assured, we shall return to Rippon shortly.

Kenworthy has not won any medals, but he achieved a different record when TV cameras filmed him snogging his boyfriend, Matt Wilkas, after his ski run on Sunday. Now, gay athletes have been setting Olympic records since the days of ancient Greece, but two men kissing on US primetime TV is, sad to say, still a big deal. If you want to put this into cultural perspective, vice-president Mike Pence is the US’s representative in the audience at the Games, a man who, in his 2000 campaign for Congress, put in his campaign statement: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour.” Was Pence endorsing conversion therapy? He says not. Which brings us back to Rippon.

Gus Kenworthy kissing his boyfriend Matt Wilkas. Photograph: NBC via twitter

For the past month, Rippon, a US figure skater and all-round delight, has been engaged in a feud with Pence about whether or not he supports conversion therapy and, really, how else should a VP spend his time but fighting with a figure skater? That is a totally normal and absolutely vice-presidential way for a politician to behave.

But, look, can we stop talking about Pence and move on to Rippon already? Because this man is king of the Olympics this year and the god of excellent quotes: “I might not be the best, but I’m the most fun. I’m going to skate my heart out!” When asked how he is skating so well at 28 (which is old, apparently, on the ice) Rippon shot back: “I can’t explain witchcraft.”

And the people have noticed. Britney Spears, doing her best work in years, has been excitedly tweeting away at Kenworthy and Rippon (“I could feel you on the ice with me @britneyspears,” Rippon replied.) Sally Field, proving she is as great a mother as you always suspected, has been trying to fix up her son, Sam Greisman, with Rippon, tagging him into Greisman’s tweet about his crush on the skater. Like Sally, I am an American mother of boys and, let me tell you, when our boys want something, we don’t hang around.

So, in conclusion, yay the gays, you are making this Winter Olympics a joy. Can all sport please take note and have more openly gay people taking part? If nothing else, you might get Field fixing up her son with your athletes. If that’s not an incentive, I don’t know what is.

This article was amended on 21 February 2018 because an earlier version said that Eric Radford was the “first out LGBT competitor to win a gold medal.” This has been corrected to say that Radford is the first voluntarily out male athlete to win gold at the Winter Olympics. Dutch speed-skater Ireen Wüst, who is bisexual, won her first gold in 2006. British figure skater John Curry had been also been outed prior to winning gold at the 1976 Winter Olympics.

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