Outgames Copenhagen Diary
I realize this ‘diary’ of my experience at the Outgames is a bit after the fact but the original magazine from the UK called 3SixtyMag that was supposed to publish it seems to have evaporated like many paper publications in the world. So sad. Anyway, I worked my ass off writing it and taking photos all while swimming in the games so I’m publishing it myself. Please excuse the typos, misspellings and poor grammar. I assumed they would do it for me and at this point I’m just to tired to do it myself.
Outgames Copenhagen Diary
As I pack for the Outgames in Copenhagen, Denmark I’m getting very excited about all the possibilities. I have never been to the city but I have heard that it is like a quaint version of Amsterdam. Less pot and more blondes. Questions whirl in my head. Will my host (who I don’t know) be a freak who tries to get in bed with me? Will he live on a dairy farm and cows will wake me up every morning at dawn? Will I remember to pack all my swimming gear? Will I win any medals? Will I remember to pack enough of all my HIV meds? Will my flight through Stockholm be filled with crying babies and swine flu?
I schlep to Newark airport and through customs which was relatively painless. Then I quickly remember that everything is better with Xanax. I pop 3 and I wake up 7 hours later as we land in Stockholm. My connection is a breeze and an hour later I am hugging my very sweet host, Henrik the handsome handball player, who was nice enough to come and pick me up at the airport. Obviously I’m not in New York anymore. No one picks you up at the airport in New York. Even if they know you and like you.
Copenhagen is adorable. Like most European cities I have visited, it combines modern amenities with old world charm and architecture. Henrik’s place is really well designed and he couldn’t be a better host. He even has a bike for me, which is the preferred mode of transportation. (Although I ended up crashing twice). After arriving he drove me to the Outgames registration in the Hans Christian Anderson Castle, which I breezed through. They were very organized which is good sign of things to come. I did find it strange that they offered me a pass to the “women’s space” but maybe I was just wearing too much mascara. I don’t know the total number of athletes they expect for all sports but there are about 900+ swimmers in that discipline alone. I have a feeling the gays are about to take over the city.
After heading back to Henrik’s and lapsing into a coma for about 4 hours I was ready to go. We headed out to Oscar’s bar where many athletes wearing team gear had already assembled and they queers were pouring into the street. I met some cool swimmers from Sydney and a lot of locals. However most of the athletes will be arriving in the next 24 hours before the opening ceremonies. I can tell this is going to be a blast.
Although I’m still a bit jetlagged I manage to find a local pool to practice some swimming. Everyone is now arriving and anticipating the opening ceremonies. In a break from tradition, the opening ceremonies are not held in a stadium but rather in the central square of the city. It was interesting because anyone from the city could watch but it was also a bit frustrating because it was so crowded that it was hard to see the parade of athletes and the entertainment. Plus the weather was not cooperating so I had to keep dashing in and out of Oscar’s to keep from ruining my hair do.
Some people had complained that the Danish government was not supportive enough of the Outgames but the Mayor did speak at the opening ceremonies and there were signs and huge electronic boards throughout the city promoting the games. Furthermore my host told me that several of the Danish ministers are openly gay and it’s not that big of an issue.
All in all the attitude of all the athletes was very excited and upbeat. It’s an extremely moving experience to be surrounded by gay athletes from all over the world and sharing a common experience. The opening was unfortunately marred buy the fact that 3 gay men were assaulted that evening. I asked my host Henrick about that and he said that while of course it was very unfortunate, he didn’t think that type of thing happens very often and it garnered a lot of press because the Outgames were in town. I have to say I don’t know the facts of the beatings but I know that they occur on a daily basis in the United States and they are rarely even mentioned in the press. I always felt very safe. Except when I was doing this..
I had one day of tourism before the swimming competition so Henrick was nice enough to take me to a castle to see the crown jewels. I was quite envious of the crowns on display. If it weren’t for the alarmed security doors I might be wearing one right now. (The queen’s crown of course.)
We spent the rest of the day biking around the city and looking at the architecture and getting my bearings. I have a horrific sense of direction and the street names look like gibberish to an American so I had to use landmarks and buildings to find my way around. I got lost on multiple occasions but friendly locals were always quick to point me in the right direction.
That evening Henrick, who is a goalkeeper for a Danish handball team, hosted a party for all the other handball teams. Unlike most Americans, thankfully most Europeans speak multiple languages. I met cool guys from Sweden, Finland and all over Denmark.
Monday was my first day of swimming, which started early. I knew I had to pace myself because swimming is the biggest and longest event in the Outgames. Its 5 days in a row, which can be quite exhausting. I was worried because my first event was the 200 Individual Medley and I am a sprinter so 200 meters is a long event for me. Plus in the US we usually swim in 25-yard pools and the competition was held in an Olympic caliber 50-meter pool. This makes a big difference. However, to my surprise, my training paid off and I ended up with a bronze medal. I wasn’t even expecting to be in the top 5 so I was very happy. It was a great start to the meet.
I have to note here that the pool is a new venue and it was really amazing. However there was one thing that all the Americans found strange. They had VERY strict rules about showering before entering the pool area. Now I am all for proper hygiene but they even had a diagram on the wall of a person with orange circles around all the areas that needed special scrubbing. I wanted to take a photo of the diagram but I’m pretty sure they were not allowing cameras in the locker room. It was kind of amusing. They even had an official who stood in the shower area and monitored everyone to make sure they were showering in the nude and washing appropriately. I want that job.
After going to bed early the night before I was ready for my events of the day. I was quite nervous for my 50-meter breaststroke because I was seeded in second place behind a swimmer who holds the American record. Although it was a close race unfortunately I got second by .4 seconds. I was happy with a silver medal and it was a good race. I swam breaststroke in a 4 X 100 medley relay, which also won a silver medal! So now I had a matching set to make earrings.
After the swimming of the day I went to a place called the Pride Village, which was a sort of outdoor market/beer garden with various stands for souvenirs and different types of entertainment. Team Canada was having a meet and greet party so I attended with one of the swimmers I had met earlier that day. I love Canada and I have cousins from Vancouver so it was really fun to meet people from all over different parts of Canada. I said ‘aboot’ a lot which I found more and more amusing the more beers I had. I had three more days of swimming so I resisted the cute boys for another night and decided to pedal on home before me and my bike became a danger to the public.
After a good night’s sleep I was ready for another day of swimming and boys in Speedos. I swam the 100-breast stroke and did an OK time for a bronze medal behind two of my friendly American rivals. I also swam the breaststroke leg on the 4 X 50 medley relay and we won the silver. After the swim competition they had a special award ceremony for a Dutch swimmer from Upstream Amsterdam named Robert Weyhenke who set a new European Masters record in the 100 meter breaststroke. At age 57 he did the same time as I did!!! It was really impressive. I spoke to him briefly afterward to congratulate him on that amazing accomplishment.
I stayed after the swimming competition was over to watch the gay synchronized swimming. It was fabulous. Synchronized swimming is a mix of gymnastics, swimming and dance all while holding one’s breath. It’s one of the most difficult and underappreciated sports. To watch two men swim together was particularly moving. Men are not allowed to compete in synchronized swimming, according to FINA rules, because it is considered a female sport. While I must admit there is a high camp factor in male synchro, I feel like there is definitely some homophobic discrimination involved in that limitation. Regardless, we are lucky to have the Outgames to showcase the talents of male synchronized swimmers. There were some amazing female teams as well.
In the evening I went to the bear party held in Christiana. Although I am not hairy enough to be considered a bear, the party welcomed all types, which seems to be a reoccurring theme in Copenhagen. Christiana is a former military base that was abandoned and taken over by squatters who formed a separate, self-governing community. Apparently the inhabitants live exclusively from the rest of Copenhagen, are totally self-sufficient and don’t pay taxes. It was really interesting. More beers.
Day 7/8: On my final 2 days of the swimming competition I was basically running on fumes and the excitement in the air. 5 days of swimming is exhausting and physically demanding. However I caught my second wind when I captured my first gold medal in the 4 x 50 meter freestyle relay. We kicked ass!!!
I also won silver in the 100 freestyle. Then next day I had my last event which was the 50 meter freestyle. I went into the event seeded in 4th place but we were all very close in time. Since I got second place in the 100 freestyle I knew I might have a chance at the gold. I was very nervous before the event but I focused and when the race began I was ready. I finished in one of my personal best time of 26.63. I knew at that point that I had a good chance of winning but there were still 2 heats of swimmers left to go. I sat in the stands and watched the fin al 2 heats—and I WON. My first individual gold medal!!! What a way to finish the competition.
Day 9: After swimming was over I was free to let down my hair and have some fun. Fortunately for me it was also Copenhagen Gay Pride day. My friend Mark Burrows and I walked with Sydney’s Wet Ones swim team in the Outgames section of the parade. Everyone was in a great mood. There were tons of floats and fun costumes.
I was most impressed by the local people that came out to watch the parade. For the most part in the US it’s only the LGBT community that comes out to support the parade marchers. It seemed to me that the whole city was involved. The parade ended in the city center square and culminated in a huge outdoor celebration with live music and dancing. It was the perfect end to a perfect vacation in a near perfect city. Kudos to Copenhagen for a job well done. I will be back.