by Jim Provenzano
Attend a few practices with the San Francisco Track and Field Club, and you run a course through Gay Games history.
The club's members work out a few nights a week at Golden Gate Park's Kezar Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies of the first two Gay Games were held. San Francisco State University's Cox Stadium was the site of the Games' first two track tournaments, and serves as the location of additional practices on pristine Sunday mornings.
While a core group of devoted track and field athletes may number less than a dozen on some days, up to 45 competitors will travel to Chicago for next month's Gay Games VII. At the last Games, held in Sydney, Australia in 2002, SFTFC members racked up nearly 100 medals, and Chicago may reap even more for the devoted runners, jumpers, hurdlers, and throwers.
That's because despite the relaxed joke-filled atmosphere during warm-ups, when it comes to the actual training, it's all hard work. At Kezar, where numerous other predominantly straight running groups jog at a good pace, cutting a swath through them are a few of the fastest runners on the track, each of them out gay and lesbian members of the team co-founded by Dr. Tom Waddell, who also served as the founder of the Games.
The other co-founder is Rick Thoman, 53, who serves as team coordinator (he eschews the term coach). Thoman will compete in his seventh Games next month. Like many on the team, he could fill a few buckets with his many medals won, yet he remains modest about his many accomplishments.
Similarly, Curtis Moore, who racked up a baker's dozen of medals in Sydney, remains modest, but is a sure bet for many victories at the suburban Hansen Park, where Chicago's track events will be held.
Moore will compete in several events; the 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter races, the long jump, triple jump, and 400 hurdles, and three relay events; the 4x100-meter, 4x200-meter, and 4x400-meter events.
At the U.S. Track and Field Association's national indoor championships held in Boston in March, Moore came in second in long jump (at 21' 9") and third in triple jump (at 42' 6"). Among nationally ranked athletes in the U.S., Moore placed second and third in those events.
Born in Toronto, Canada after his parents moved from Trinidad, Moore, 39, has a degree in biophysics and is the executive director of Bay Area Young Positives, a nonprofit that assists more than 100 members age 26 and under with counseling, housing, medical help and support groups related to HIV/AIDS.
Along with the administrative aspect of his work, he supervises weekend retreats for members such as rafting trips with the local group Healing Waters, and hikes to places such as Marin's Mount Tamalpais. He also books staff speaking engagements at high schools with HIV prevention outreach programs.
Moore doesn't see the Gay Games as a greater or lesser competition, but adds, "When we compete [in masters tournaments] we're actually ranked among the best people in our sport." As for the Games, he said, "It's nice that we're able to have our own competitions, too."
Moore said he risked injury with his ambitious set of events in Sydney, and is scaling back the amount of competitions for Chicago. Despite having previously medaled in discus and shot put, he won't compete in those events this year. "One event I will have to compete hard in is the 100-meter race," he said. "It's not the one that comes naturally for me."
Does Moore expect more glory in Chicago? "You never know," he said. "Sometimes some people do better when the environment is competitive. But sometimes people perform better when there's less stress." But with his easygoing nature and proven skill, stress doesn't seem like it'll be a problem.
If you go to Gold's Gym in the Castro, you may know Gwynn Villegas, who works as a manager there. He'll be competing in the 110-meter high hurdles, the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, the 100-and 200-meter races, and the 4x100 relays. Villegas, 39, has medaled in events at the past three Gay Games.
At New York's Gay Games IV, he took gold in the 200-meter, silver in the 100-meter, silver in the 400-meter hurdles and gold in both the 4x100 and 4x200 relays.
How does he feel about his prospects for Chicago? "Based on what Sydney brought, I'm thinking of winning gold in both hurdles events and placing in the 100 and 200 meter races," he said. Villegas also sees gold medals in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays as strong possibilities.
Asked about who might be his top competitors, Villegas said that the Outgames might have an effect on who he competes against. "I don't see that many non-Americans. Rumor has it that right now it's about 70 percent Americans, because a lot of the athletes from non-U.S. nations are going to Montreal."
Brian Mutert, 50, has medaled in several field events like high jump since New York's 1994 Games. He'll also take up pole vault in Chicago. Mutert said that the Gay Games have always had a majority of Americans, with Canadians, Australians, and Germans comprising the other largest contingents.
In 1998, Mutert won gold in the 400-meter both of his hurdles events, took third in 200, won high jump, and was part of silver and gold-medal-winning relay teams. Mutert's partner Fred Kluth, 45, is also a previous medalist in track and field events who will compete in Chicago.
Mutert recalls two Australian athletes who outdid him in Sydney, lowering his medal count. Nevertheless, he said, "You want the competition. One of the guys was Australia's top sprinter from the 1984 Olympics, who ran against Carl Lewis in the 100-meter finals. The competition just keeps getting better at
Another shift that may occur is the Midwestern influence. With the Games in the U.S. heartland, will exceptional athletes make the relatively easy trip?
"I think the Gay Games is more known and broadly recognized more than it was in times past," said Mutert. "People are a lot more aware of athletes in our community than they were 12 years ago, the last times the Games were in North America."
Another aspect of gay sports visibility is that competitors like Bob Callori also regularly participate in regional masters tournaments. When not serving as a prolific team photographer, Callori, 63, has competed in nearly a dozen regional masters track competitions in the past few years.
Some have simply migrated from other sports, like Rob Holloway, who last ran track in high school in the early 1980s in Michigan. Holloway, 39, played softball with the Gay Softball League's San Francisco Aftershock, which won silver at the Sydney Games. "But I only got to play a little bit, so I decided at that point that what I really wanted to do was run." Holloway began training nine months ago and will compete in three sprints and three relays.
Two of the newest members of track and field are also two of the fastest. In college, Peter Myers ran track at Western Washington University in Bellingham, where he was an All-American in hurdles. He'll be competing in Chicago in the 110-meter hurdles, the 4x400 relay, and other sprints in the 30-34 age group. As if that's not enough, he'll also be playing basketball.
"I'm not so worried about basketball because it's more of a team thing," said Myers, 32, who will compete in track early each day, and play games later, depending on his team's success. "We'll play two games a day, and I'll have one or two races a day. Hurdle races won't have a lot of preliminary heats."
How will Myers get from the track field to the basketball court, which, he discovered, are nine miles apart? "I'm renting a scooter, so I can go back and forth and cruise on over whenever we have a game."
Kien Tran, 29, is the second-youngest member of the track team (at 26, sprinter and hurdler Andy Bundy is the youngest). Tran ran track in high school and college at Lansing, Michigan's Catholic Central. His family left Vietnam in 1990. After getting a pre-med degree, he moved to San Francisco six years ago.
Tran said that coming out as gay was somewhat related to his sport. "I was a runner because it was a good place to try and accept my thoughts," he said. "Running is a passion I've always had. Once I moved out here, I heard about the Gay Games and knew, 'I could do that!'"
But the expense of traveling to Sydney prevented his participation in 2002. Now employed as a pharmaceutical HIV specialist for Roche Laboratories, he's saved up while improving his already swift speed on the track. "So now, this is my chance."
Tran will compete in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter races, 400-meter hurdles, long jump, triple jump, and will try to "squeeze in" the pole vault events. In college, he cleared up to 14 feet. "I haven't trained on it, because it didn't want to injure myself."
Of his incredibly swift running, Tran said, "The more efficient you are, the faster you run, and the less tired you get. It all takes time to get to that level."
Possibly the most grueling of track events is the decathlon, which incorporates 10 running and field events. David Dibley, 42, will compete, and he and his partner Drew Monaghan, 41, are also running sprints and field events such as javelin and pole vault. Both excelled at Sydney's Games, as did Allan Eggman, who said Chicago may be his last decathlon.
In his small town of Terra Bella (one hour north of Bakersfield), Eggman started jumping as a young boy, eventually clearing 6'7" in the high jump. He competed in his first decathlon as a senior in high school, and continued with it in college at Sacramento State University.
After becoming a track coach, Eggman, 45, came out and met his partner of 13 years, Harry Lit, who convinced him to join SFTFC before the Amsterdam Games.
At the time Eggman, said, "The track portion of our team was healthy, but the field portion was minimal. I decided to help improve our field events by coaching fellow teammates with the field events and organizing fundraising. Over the next two Games, the SF Track team had one of the largest field event contingents, winning multiple medals." Eggman won a silver medal in decathlon, despite two previous knee surgeries. "I was determined that at the next games I would bring home the gold."
In Sydney, Eggman won several medals in individual events that are also part of the decathlon. Despite beating the leader in the 1500-meter race by 30 seconds, Eggman lost the gold medal by 14 points. "Overall a great Gay Games but still an elusive gold in my primary event," said Eggman. "I'm very determined to win the gold in the decathlon in Chicago. Maybe the old saying is true, the third time is the charm."