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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Outgames end to rave reviews
by Ross Forman
2009-08-05

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Pictured: Chicago Rowing Union, Jack Mackenroth. Photos by Ross Forman

Copenhagen, Denmark—When the second World Outgames ended its run Aug. 2, the LGBT worldwide community witnessed the final tears ( of both joy and sadness ) from its most memorable eight-day period of 2009.

With 34 sports, an interesting and entertaining cultural program centered around six international cities, and a human rights conference with an amazing array of speakers from all corners of the world, the second World Outgames was clearly better than the first in Montreal in 2006.

The 2009 Outgames brought tears and fears, dancing and prancing, splashin' and fashion, emotion and commotion. The event opened Saturday night, July 25, with an entertaining, uplifting, at times surreal ceremony in downtown Copenhagen.

About 1,800 sports competitions later, the World Outgames was the most memorable summer vacation some might ever experience, shared with LGBT representatives from Suriname, Sweden and about 100 other countries.

"It has been nine wonderful, queer days in Copenhagen," said Outgames CEO Uffe Elbaek. "There was the right mix of sport, culture & art, and human rights. Plus, it was not a closed party for the few, but [ rather ] , an open party for the many. I'm a humble Scandinavian man, which means that I don't like to overdo the success, but, World Outgames was really one big success. From the start to the end."

The Outgames attracted about 4,500 sporting participants and another 1,000 for the human rights conference. The total was thousands below pre-event predictions, but certainly not for a lack of trying, dedication, effort, marketing, promotion or pizzazz from the Elbaek-led local organizing committee.

Very simply, the worldwide financial crisis put a chokehold on attendance.

"The 2009 Outgames was amazing," said Julie Applegate of Columbus, Ohio, who is the co-president of the Gay & Lesbian International Sport Association ( GLISA ) , which is the governing body for the Outgames. "The fact that 5,500 people invested in being here was beautiful.

"One of the things the local organizing committee really wanted to do was, make it an inclusive event, so it wasn't just for our community, but also for the entire City of Copenhagen and the country of Denmark. And I think they did that."

So what's next for the World Outgames?

That, unfortunately, is up in the air.

The plan is for the third World Outgames to be held during the summer of 2013.

The question is, where?

"We don't know yet," where it will be held, said GLISA co-president Wessel Van Kampen of Amsterdam. "Last year, at the delegate congress in Vancouver, our membership told the board that we like the [ application from ] Antwerp, Belgium very much, so go ahead and negotiate a contract with them. And we're in the process of doing that."

Van Kampen would not give a timetable or deadline for finalizing the contract for Antwerp.

"I think one of the key learning points from the past is to have a very good, stable relationship on paper," Van Kampen said. "I have no problems taking a week or a month longer to do that because [ the contract ] is something that binds two organizations for a very long time in an extremely difficult project. If you don't lay a good foundation, it's going to bite you in the tail."

Van Kampen said GLISA has backup destinations if Antwerp falls though; however, he would not name those locations.

Van Kampen is planning to play field hockey next summer at the Gay Games in Cologne.

"The Gay Games is a good event and I love going there," said Van Kampen, who attended the Gay Games in Sydney.

So, will the two similar events ever merge?

"I don't know … I can't see that far ahead," he said.

Applegate added that, if the Outgames and the Gay Games are ever merged, she'd be a strong proponent to maintain the Outgames' cultural program and human rights conference alongside the sports program.

"It would be a pity to stop doing," the cultural program and the human rights conference and just offer a sporting event, he said. [ Note: The Gay Games has always had a major cultural component, but the Outgames' human-rights conference is a new component to the world sports stage. ]

Applegate swam at the Gay Games in Amsterdam and Sydney, and also in Copenhagen.

"For me, GLISA brings together the three most important things in my life: sports, culture and human rights. So the Outgames is a very personal event for me," she said.

Also from the Outgames:

Chicago Rowers Union ( CRU )

CRU captured the bronze medal in the "Head of the Harbour" four-man open, 6,000-meter race which featured 16 participants. CRU was represented by partners John Sanders and Brando Mataya from Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood, and a CRU satellite member who practices and races with the CRU team, but actually lives in Colorado, Michael Check. All are gay.

"More than just a melding of cultures from various nations, [ the Outgames ] was an event with a common concern and focus from all attending on the 'Love of Freedom and Freedom To Love,'" Mataya said. "Copenhagen is an amazing city, filled with open-minded, socially-advanced people who seemed the perfect backdrop for the events.

"What was as impressive as the talent present was the discipline. The day before events, athletes retire early and get plenty of rest for the following days' activities. There is a real sense of competition, combined with the reality that there is more to the Outgames than just competition. The melding of ideas, confirmation of concepts, political issues and events all take a part. There are a lot of moving parts to an event of this size. We found that the other teams were there to not only compete against but support each other at the Outgames events whenever needed and often without asking."

Jack Mackenroth

A former Project Runway star from New York City, Jack Mackenroth left Denmark with plenty of bling, winning two gold, four silver and two bronze medals. And, his team won the Rainbow Relay ( six swimmers from different teams ) as well.

"My experience here has been amazing. I love the city and the local people have been accommodating and supportive. I have not felt any of the anti-gay sentiment that is so prevalent in the U.S.," he said. "The swimming complex was beautiful and the entire Outgames was run with amazing efficiency. I love meeting athletes from all over the world. We share the common bond of sport, so it's easy to get to know someone and ask about their events."

Alain Villeneuve

A multi-sport athlete from Chicago, Alain Villeneuve crashed halfway into the 20.5-kilometer time-trial bicycle race. He was, though, able to get up and finish, winning the silver medal.

But in the triathlon, there was no stopping Villeneuve; he was golden.

"The course [ for the time trial ] was majestic, a small bike path in the middle of green space surrounded by cows and natural landmarks," he said. "Half way into the race, I turned and hit a wall. My bike was stuck in a fence, yet I did not lose my cool, because of my training. I got it unstuck and finished 18 seconds [ behind ] the winner.

"As a Buddhist, I understood why I lost when I saw the local heroes, a Danish with an 8-year-old kid on the podium. My heart went out to them and honestly, I was glad to give him and his son the first place."

On the final day of competition in Denmark, Villeneuve raced the Olympic-distance triathlon, with about 180 entrants. He finished with a personal-best time of 2 hours, 17 minutes, which is 11 minutes faster than his previous best.

"Seriously, the level [ of competition in the triathlon ] was amazing," Villeneuve said. "I jumped into the water [ after the event ] along with tens of Aussies with the bodies of Greek Gods and saw many jelly fish down in the water as I swam.

"I managed to catch most of [ the Aussies ] on the bike and by the time the run was over, by a small running path along an internal moat, I came in well into the top 10. I managed to get gold in my age-group, generally a very competitive age-group.

"The organization [ of the Outgames ] was wonderful; people were nice, and seriously, if you want to see hot bodies, this was the place to be. Fact is, my final impression is simple: gays can be very strong at sport. The guys there were as competitive a group as any tri in the U.S., the only difference, each had a boyfriend waiting for them at the finish line."

Hate crime

interrupts

Outgames

By Ross Forman

Copenhagen, Denmark—The pomp and pageantry of the second World Outgames was silenced here July 28 ( local time ) amid an alleged hate-crime attack during the track & field competition, held as Osterbro Stadium.

Dean Koga of the Seattle Frontrunners was injured by shrapnel when an explosive device was thrown on the track moments before the start of the men's 4 x 200 relay. Koga's right hand was injured; he required stitches from the explosion and had plastic removed from his hand. He has been released from the hospital, and was back on the track July 29.

The incident involved fireworks shot from a Roman candle, according to Gerry Hail of the World Outgames.

Competition was halted for about 90 minutes before athletes agreed to continue, said one eyewitness.

Shortly after the explosion, Copenhagen police apprehended a 31-year-old Danish man.

"It was one specific person who did [ the attack ] ," said Outgames President Uffe Elbaek. "I am so happy that the police were quick on the spot and arrested him. The charge is committing a hate crime.

"I was at the venue later in the day and the athletes were in good spirits. Today it was totally calm [ at the track venue ] .

"Even in country like Denmark that is very liberal, there always are people who have to show their intolerance [ for homosexuality ] and stupidity. And that's why [ events such as ] the World Outgames is needed."

Kogan competed in Chicago at the 2006 Gay Games. He was one of 37 members of the Seattle Frontrunners in Copenhagen.

"As the men's 4 X 200 relay was counting down to start, two explosive devices were thrown onto the track from behind a wall," said Jon Nicholson, also a member of the Seattle Frontrunners and an eyewitness to the event. "They exploded upon impact and resulted in Dean Koga sustaining injuries to his right hand from flying material. We had had four Seattle Frontrunners at the starting blocks at the time and 16 on the track. All others are unharmed, however a little shaken up.

Nicholson said Koga planned to compete in track events Wed., July 29, and Elbaek confirmed he was going to participate.

"A second attack device was thrown in another area of the stadium about 45 minutes later, however no one was injured," Nicholson said. "The track meet was delayed about 90 minutes, but all agreed to stop would be to give in to this hateful person and all events continued as planned."

Nicholson said that there were "a large number of uniformed and plain-clothes police protecting the stadium."

Nicholson added: "This is a very unfortunate event, but Seattle Frontrunners' moral has not been tempered. After winning eight medals in road races on Sunday, we will continue to do well on the track."

The Outgames ends its eight-day run here Saturday, Aug. 1.

The eighth Gay Games will be held next summer in Cologne, Germany; Gay Games officials issued a statement July 29 regarding the attack.

"We condemn the violent attacks against LGBT athletes and spectators during the Outgames taking place this week in Copenhagen, Denmark," according to the statement. "This week we are all Copenhageners and we stand in solidarity with Outgames organizers and the very gay-friendly people of Copenhagen against this kind of violence. Our thoughts are with the runner injured by the explosive devices at the track stadium and the people who were attacked on Sunday [ in a separate incident ] . We are pleased to hear that all injuries have been minor and that runner will still likely be able to compete. We extend our full support to all the participants at the Outgames. Copenhagen has a reputation as one of the most LGBT-friendly places on earth. Even there, we are reminded that our community still faces those that would deny us our basic human rights, even the freedom to run in a track meet in safety. But we will not be discouraged; rather, we will run, swim, jump, throw, grapple, volley and perform at events like the Gay Games and Outgames, celebrating our right to love who we want."


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