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Jock Talk: The Olympics kiss seen round the world

by Roger Brigham

Gus Kenworthy kisses his boyfriend, Matthew Wilkas, during the Winter Olympics. Photo: NBC screenshot
Gus Kenworthy kisses his boyfriend, Matthew Wilkas, during the Winter Olympics. Photo: NBC screenshot  

Frostbitten notes from a fortnight-plus of wintry Olympics ...

We begin with a kiss. Not just any kiss. This was a kiss for the ages, for pride, for love, for acceptance. When freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy spotted his boyfriend, Matthew Wilkas, at the start of the men's ski slopestyle competition, Kenworthy walked up to him, embraced, and laid one helluva smooch on him.

NBC cameras caught the moment and, lo and behold, aired it.

Finally.

Eight years ago in Beijing, NBC passed on the chance to broadcast gay Australian gold medal diver Matthew Mitcham kissing his boyfriend after his dramatic victory in the platform dive - the only dive preventing a Chinese sweep of the diving medals - and has been roundly (and justifiably) criticized ever since for not providing the same behind-the-scenes coverage of LGBT athletes that it provides heterosexual athletes.

"To be able to do that, to give him a kiss, to have that affection broadcast to the world, is incredible," Kenworthy said. "The only way to really change perceptions, to break down barriers, break down homophobia, is through representation. That's definitely not something I had as a kid. I never saw a gay athlete kissing their boyfriend at the Olympics. I think if I had, it would've made it easier for me."

Thumb and hip problems prevented Kenworthy from repeating his medal-winning performance from four years ago, but he emerged from these Olympics a bona fide gay sports icon. Kenworthy's TV moment will never make up for the perceived snub in Beijing, but it just might provide hope for many young viewers.

Crossing up the cross-country world
Yeah, I know the U.S. men scored a dramatic gold medal win in curling on the final day of competition (and my boss was watching every minute of it), but I have to admit curling never really cut it for me as a spectator or participatory event. Yes, very tough, requires incredible skill, patience and concentration, but come on: sliding rocks across the ice?

For me, the sports that really show grit and athleticism are cross-country skiing and ice hockey (oops: more sliding of rocks on ice!) - and the U.S. women were historic in both, grabbing gold after investing decades of work into the disciplines.

The women's triumph in hockey shouldn't be a surprise, since they've won almost all of the world championships and cups there ever were, but they have come up short in the Olympics to Canada again and again and again. This time they were down late and it looked like the same was in store. But this is the same group of women who forced a showdown with their bosses for equal pay and won, and they showed the same ferocity this time to come back and seize the gold from our neighbors to the north.

And it was a neighbor to the north of our neighbors to the north who helped deliver gold in the women's team sprint race, when Alaska's Kikkan Randall paired with Minnesota's Jessie Diggins to blow past Sweden down the stretch. It was the country's first Olympic gold medal in women's cross-country skiing and just the second medal ever in the discipline, following Bill Koch's gold in men's cross-country in 1976.

My first sportswriting job was in Anchorage back in the 1980s, so I cut my teeth covering Alaska's superb skiers of the time, such as Lynn Spencer, Judy Rabinowitz, and Nina Kemppel. They put a lot of sweat equity into the sport to build it to the level it is today. Hell, I'm still feeling the glow.

The Russians are doping, the Russians are doping
I snoozed through a collectively subpar performance by the U.S. women's figure skaters and yawned as I watched an Olympic Athlete from Russia stack all of her jumps in the closing seconds to snatch gold. But I could not help but notice that all of the squeaky clean athletes from Russia, who were waved into the Olympics stripped of the national anthem and flag that represented their country because it had been banned for systematic cheating and were now marching on their own because they cross-their-hearts promised they would not circumvent the system this time, and they said they really meant it this time - I think I have the situation right - I could not help but notice they had two doping violations and were stripped of a curling bronze because of it.

Anyway, apparently as some kind of award for having only two cheaters in their midst this time, just two, Russia will be awarded shortly with a lifting of the ban. Nothing to see here, folks: keep moving.

Olympic legacy
Have to admit it, the Summer and Winter Olympics are inspiring TV spectacles. But it is increasingly hard to overlook the disastrous economic legacies and cruel human costs that occur before and after the TV cameras roll.

Ballooning costs and security concerns have caused fewer and fewer cities to bid for Olympic Games, and bidders now tend not to come from strong democracies concerned with human rights, but more autocratic and militaristic powers looking to flex their might and pound their chests.

Pyeongchang proved no exception.

German news media reported that more than a fifth of the 15,000 "volunteer" workforce building the venues had quit because of squalid living quarters and crappy food. The cost of the Olympics was supposed to be $6 billion but more than doubled. The city was patrolled by 60,000 cops and 50,000 soldiers. There are no set plans for post-Olympic use of four of the newly constructed venues.

But at least the workers and the citizens who will foot the bill have the pleasure of knowing the International Olympic Committee has a bankroll of more than $1 billion and its representatives had a wonderful time jetting in, being treated lavishly, and jetting back out.

NCAA scandal
Seems some kind of scandal in NCAA basketball has been breaking out while all this slushing and skating was going on, but I've run out of room to write about it. We'll check back in on it in a couple of weeks to see if the whole thing has exploded. In the meantime, wax your skis and get out on the trails. The next wintry extravaganza is just four years away.

Gay Games 2018 uniforms
Team San Francisco has announced a Gay Games X team T-shirt design competition, and the Federation of Gay Games said it has renewed an agreement with Nike for ordering uniforms from the apparel company at discount prices.

At every Gay Games, San Francisco has had the honor of leading the parade of teams into the opening ceremonies in honor of being the birthplace of the Gay Games. The T-shirt that will be selected in the design contest will be worn by all members of Team SF in the march. The winner of the contest will be selected by the board of Team SF and win $500. Entries need to be submitted by March 21 along with name and phone number to teamsfdesign@gmail.com.

Team SF suggested designers consider the spirit of San Francisco or the Gay Games in Paris; the Team SF and Paris 2018 logos; whether the design reflects all 36 sports in this year's Gay Games; and whether the design is transferable to other applications, such as hats.

The FGG said Nike is offering participants a 30 percent discount on customized merchandise.

Information on the program and a link to the online ordering form are at www.gaygames.org/NIKE-Gay-Games-Uniform-Program.

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