A record number of openly LGBTQ Olympians will compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, which opened on Friday. While the 2016 Summer Olympics featured 56 out athletes, only seven out athletes competed in the last Winter Olympics, held in Sochi, Russia. This year, 13 openly LGBTQ athletes will compete in the Winter Games, meaning the number of queer Olympians has virtually doubled since 2014.
Pyeongchang is also notable due to its inclusion of out queer men: until this year, an openly gay or bisexual man had never competed in the Winter Olympics. Transgender and non-binary athletes have also never competed in the Winter Games.
Media coverage so far has focused predominantly on those out male athletes, like ice skater Adam Rippon, arguably overshadowing the queer women who will be competing this year. The 2018 Winter Olympics will feature at least nine queer women, representing the United States, Austria, Sweden, and more.
Here’s what you should know about them.
Cheryl Maas (Netherlands, snowboarding)
Dutch snowboarder Maas — an out lesbian — actively criticized the Olympic Committee’s decision to hold the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, despite Russian legislation targeting the queer community. After failing to make the finals in Sochi, Maas famously held up her glove, which was covered in rainbows and unicorns, in clear view of the cameras. The moment was widely seen as a defiant gesture calling out anti-LGBTQ laws in Russia.
Maas is married to another former snowboarder, Stine Brun Kjeldaas from Norway. They have two daughters, Lila and Mila.
Emilia Andersson Ramboldt (Sweden, ice hockey)
Two-time Olympian Ramboldt is a defender on Sweden’s ice hockey team. She played for Sweden during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada and again during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Ramboldt has been out for a while — she married her wife Anna in June 2015.
Daniela Iraschko-Stolz (Austria, ski jumping)
One of the world’s most successful female athletes, Iraschko-Stolz has competed in ski jumping for nearly 20 years. The Austrian athlete has holds the women’s ski flying world record — a distinction she achieved in 2003 — and won a silver medal in Sochi.
Austrian athletes rarely come out, something Iraschko-Stolz has challenged in comments to the media.
“I don’t want to hide myself,” she said, after marrying her partner in 2013. “I never cared at all what other people think about me.”
Iraschko-Stolz is already off to a good start in Pyeongchang — during her three training runs on Friday she placed in the top six each time.
Belle Brockhoff (Australia, snowboarding)
Brockhoff came out as a lesbian in 2013 ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Australian snowboarder actively opposed Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws, joining other queer athletes in voicing her discomfort.
“I want to be proud of who I am and be proud of all the work I’ve done to get into the Olympics and not have to deal with this law,” she told Australia’s ABC TV at the time.
While Brockhoff suffered a knee injury a few months ago, she is considered a serious contender in Pyeongchang.
Simona Meiler (Switzerland, snowboarding)
Meiler has represented Switzerland at the Olympics twice before and will be back for a third run in Pyeongchang. She has advocated for coming out, arguing that living openly has allowed her to excel as an athlete.
“[Athletes] have to be ready to give everything and perform wholeheartedly, and in my eyes that’s only possible if they can accept and express their sexuality,” she said. “That doesn’t mean they have to blare out that they are gay. But it definitely helps if an athlete’s closer environment is supportive and encouraging.”
Brittany Bowe (United States, speed skating)
A former college basketball player and world champion inline skater, Bowe will be representing the United States in speed skating. She competed in Sochi but failed to medal, something she’s hoping to rectify in Pyeongchang.
“Sochi 2014 is still fresh in my mind. Having that disappointment is definitely something that I reflect on during tough times, during tired moments,” she told NBC.
Discussing her relationship with Dutch speed skater Manon Kamminga, she added, “It’s nice being with somebody that has the same passion, same drive, same goals. It’s obviously difficult living on different sides of the world. But we’re both focused on our goal.”
Barbara Jezeršek (Australia, cross country skiing)
Slovenian cross-country skiier Jezeršek currently represents Australia, where she resides. Jezeršek is a lesbian and was one of the openly out athletes to compete in the 2014 Sochi Games. This will be her third Olympics.
During the eight months spent waiting for her Australian citizenship, Jezeršek was unable to compete — something that’s about to change in Pyeongchang.
“Yellow Australian Banana in PyeongChang Olympics!!! Thanks to all who helped me onmy journey to get here!!” she wrote in an Instagram post on Thursday. “Now let’s the Games begin!”
Ireen Wüst (Netherlands, speed skating)
With a number of medals to her name already — including four gold — Wüst is a popular figure in her home country. At 19, she became the youngest-ever Dutch Olympic champion in speed skating. She is bisexual and in a relationship with Letitia de Jong, another competitive speed skater in the Netherlands.
Sarka Pančochová (Czech Republic, snowboarding)
Czech athlete Sarka Pančochová began snowboarding in 2002 and has been active in the sport for almost two decades. During the 2014 Olympic Games, she badly cracked her helmet in one of the more disconcerting moments of the competition. She ultimately finished 10th in the semifinal and will be back for another shot at gold in Pyeongchang.
Pančochová came out as a lesbian in 2017 in an interview with Outsports, calling herself “stoked” to discuss her sexuality publicly.
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Author: E.A. Crunden