Chicago's Gay Games a success
by Jim Provenzano
They did it. With only two years of preparation, a rival games to contend with, and weather ranging from humid blasts to rainy downpours, the seventh Gay Games will stand as a successful turning point for the LGBT sports movement.
Nearly 12,000 athletes in 30 sports competed in venues throughout the city. After eight days of competition and cultural events in Chicago and nearby suburbs, on a bright sunny Saturday afternoon at Chicago's Wrigley Field, the Games' closing ceremonies, held July 22, took off with a rousing a cappella-punk version of the national anthem performed by the perennial favorite band Betty.
Throughout the smaller, more intimate ballpark, and a shorter program than the sprawling opening ceremonies, athletes in the stands showed off their medals as cheerleaders and country western dancers entertained the crowd.
Wrapped in a rainbow flag Statue of Liberty costume, Cyndi Lauper headlined the ceremonies, singing her hit songs "True Colors" and "Shine."
As for the athletic competition, records were set and personal bests abounded. While attendance may have been sparse at some events, and the nearly continual humidity made some indoor venues stuffy, overall, the tone and atmosphere remained upbeat.
"It's pretty exciting," said Wayne Woodward of Sydney, who competed in softball and track events when his city hosted the last Gay Games in 2002. Woodward, who competed in track sprints in Chicago, said he was thrilled to be participating in these Games. "There's maybe 150 of us [Sydney athletes] here this time; not as many as last time, surely."
On Thursday, pouring rain delayed or canceled competition in several outdoor sports. But for the most part, things went well. Chicago Games Inc., the organization created to host the seventh Games with only two years preparation, may have reversed the trend of bankrupt Games events, all while competing for sponsors and participants with the rival Outgames, set to open July 29 in Montreal.
The Games impact on Chicago was sizable. The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau estimated that the Games contributed $33.4 million to the local economy, based on the lodging, meals, and transportation costs of the 11,500 registered athletes.
While attendance figures won't be available until later this week, Gay Games VII co-vice chairman Kevin Boyer said that he anticipated this being the first profitable Games in years.
But how expenses were reined in left some athletes high and dry â€“ or sopping wet, depending on the day. While e-mail and mobile phone updates kept athletes informed of scheduling changes, some confusion over event cancellation, like track and race walking at suburban Hansen Stadium, left runners in a state of confusion (more on track events in an upcoming column).
For most days, however, sunshine and success prevailed. At night, parti
Bay Area participants racked up high medal counts in track and field, swimming, wrestling, and figure skating. Look for sport-by-sport coverage in the coming weeks.
Media coverage of the Games ranged from daily features in both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times to colorful photo spreads in local LGBT newspapers. Participants could watch daily video segments on sponsor Logo's Web site or listen to coverage on Sirius Q radio.
After the closing ceremonies, Chicago's Boystown district was crowded with celebratory participants, some showing off their medals, or just competitively flirting.
For Sasha Hullein of Cologne, Germany (which will host the next Gay Games in 2010), Chicago was his fourth Gay Games, but he made the change from soccer to figure skating.
"I did 25 years boxing, soccer, and judo," he said. "I was fed up with my straight image. But I tell you, there is nothing more difficult to train in than figure skating." Hullein said more than 20 figure skaters from Cologne competed in Chicago. Hullein was also the media manager for the Cologne bid to host the eighth Gay Games.
Hullein said he's enthused to have his hometown hosting the next Games. "There are so many nice things to see here. Of course, we were here when we won the bid, so we love Chicago. I'm making a sort of movie in my brain to remember it all. We want to bring the spirit back to Cologne. We expect it to be very special. The Cologne people are very familiar with gay people. Everyone will come together 100 percent."