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article imageCanadian luge athlete John Fennell comes out as gay

By Mathew Wace Peck     May 30, 2014 in Sports
John Fennell, the Canadian luge athlete who competed at this year’s Sochi Winter Olympics, has come out publicly as gay.
He spoke about his sexuality in an interview with the Calgary Herald, explaining that he came out to his teammates while they were in Russia for the 2014 Games.
Fennell, who is 19, told the paper that he’d known about his sexuality for a while. “It’s something I was aware of, but something I didn’t act upon for a long time,’ he said. “It was something I tried to hide. I dated girls in high school.”
However, the teenager explained that he’d kept his sexuality hidden to fit in with a macho sporting culture. “Being in an athletic culture, there’s a certain amount of bravado,” he explained. “You have to uphold [it], so it’s something I really suppressed about myself.
Although he travelled to Russia for the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Fennell admitted how scared he was, as a gay man, of falling foul to the Russian Federation’s recently imposed anti-gay laws.
“The thing that scared me the most is our Canadian Olympic Committee debriefing that said any information in Russia is subject to being seen by the [Russian] government,” he told the paper. “[Therefore] I didn’t travel with my phone or my computer when we went there, which was a testament to how nervous I was going in. I was a basket case going to Russia.”
The young man says that before coming out as gay, he suffered from “an all-consuming paranoia of who could find out. You have to play this game of, ‘Who knows?’ You can’t let off any vibes or secrets. You have to act super-macho. You have to be hyper-aware of your mannerisms and to not let off any vibes that could get detected. It’s very exhausting.”
John Fennell — who is among an ever-growing number of sports people who have come out as gay in recent years — also told the Calgary Herald that he’d sought advice about the best way to come out from a fellow openly gay Canadian, the Olympic swimmer Mark Tewksbury, who, he says, had been really helpful.
To luge
The young athlete has competed as a luger since 2011, coming in 7th place for Canada in the first-ever Youth Olympics, which were held in Innsbruck, Austria, in 2012.
A luge is a small one- or two-person sled on which one sleds supine (face up) and feet-first. Steering is done by flexing the sled's runners with the calf of each leg or exerting opposite shoulder pressure to the seat.
Luge  Vancouver Winter Olympic Games  2020
Luge, Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, 2020
Public Domain
The term “luge” means “small coasting sled,” possibly from the same root as the English “sled.” It’s thought to have first been used in 1905. The sport is governed by the International Luge Federation.
On returning home to Canada from Russia, Fennell set about visiting friends and family, to tell them, too. And, as Gay Star News reports, he hasn’t looked back since taking.
“You know that feeling when you’re falling asleep and you have that feeling that you’re falling, and you hit the ground, and you’re suddenly awake?” Fennell said. “That’s what it was like for me. I was totally, fully conscious all at once. A whole new aspect of myself opened up and it’s very liberating.”
Fennell's decision to come out has prompted a rush of good wishes, such as from blogger Perez Hilton, who tweeted, “Congratulations, cutie! And kudos to you for your bravery and honesty! Inspiring! x”
Meanwhile, one of Fennell's Canadian National Luge Team members, Arianne Jones, wrote, “Could not be more proud of my friend @johncanluge. @TheEllenShow check out my teammate and amazing human.”
More about John Fennell, Luge, Gay, Sochi Wimter Olympics, sochi 2014
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