6 LGBT athletes who made history at the Olympic Games, from Tom Daley and Caster Semenya to Ian Thorpe

Matthew Mitcham, Ian Thorpe and Tom Daley: gay athletic stars who have broken barriers in the world of sport. Photos: @matthewmitcham88; @homenajesbacanes; @tomdaley/Instagram

Much like the rest of 2020, the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games became a casualty of Covid-19. Originally expected to take place from 24 July until 9 August 2020, the highly anticipated international event was postponed to the summer of 2021.

With a week to go, athletes and fans around the world are gearing up for what will surely be Olympic Games like never before.

The National Stadium during an athletics test event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Tokyo on May 9, 2021. Photo: AFP

For one, there will be no spectators at this year’s events held in and around Tokyo, as Japan declared a state of emergency in the capital due to rising Covid-19 figures.

However despite these limitations, something that should definitely be celebrated is the ever-increasing diversity of the Olympics’ international competitors. Particularly when it comes to queer representation, an increasing number of athletes from around the world are openly competing as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

In their honour, let’s take a trip down Olympian memory lane, celebrating some of the trailblazing LGBTQ+ athletes and Olympic medallists of games past.

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Robert Dover, dressage (USA), four bronze

Equestrian Robert Dover became the first openly gay person to compete at the Olympics. Photo: @dovers_world/ Instagram

He came out in 1988 and competed in every Olympics from 1984 until 2004. Throughout his astonishing three-decade Olympic career, Dover won four bronze medals in the team dressage category.

Matthew Mitcham, diving (Australia), one gold

Matthew Mitcham is the first openly gay Olympic gold medallist. Photo: @matthewmitcham88/Instagram

Mitcham’s acrobatic excellence earned him an Olympic gold in the 10 metre platform event, making him the first openly gay Olympic gold medallist. He also became the first Australian male diver to win a gold at an Olympics since 1924.

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Tom Daley, diving (UK), two bronze

Olympic medal winner Tom Daley is also a television personality and YouTube vlogger. Photo: @tomdaley/Instagram
Daley bagged his first Olympic medal win in 2012, and over a year later shared a video on his YouTube channel publicly acknowledging that he was in a gay relationship. Since then, he’s married his partner – American film writer, director and producer Dustin Lance Black. The two men are among the most high-profile gay couples in the world.

Ian Thorpe, swimming (Australia), five gold, three silver, one bronze

Australian swimming champion Ian Thorpe is one of the most awarded athletes in recent memory who publicly came out after he retired from international competition. Photo: @dorothys_bffs/ Instagram

His list of achievements and medal wins is so impressive, he garnered the nickname “Thorpedo”. Not only has Thorpe won five Olympic golds – making him the only Australian ever to do so – he was also the most decorated athlete in the 2000 Sydney games. That year he won three gold medals and two silvers.

Beyond his Olympic victories, Thorpe has received a myriad of awards and accolades, including being the youngest male athlete ever to represent Australia in international competition; 13 world records; 11 World Championship gold medals; and even a Human Rights Medal for his outreach work with indigenous youth.

Natalie Cook, beach volleyball (Australia), one gold, one bronze

Australian Natalie Cook won both bronze and gold Olympic medals. Photo: @dawncorcoran/Facebook

The Aussie player first represented her country at the Olympics at the 1996 Atlanta games where she won her first Olympic bronze. The successful beach volleyball star is also the first Australian female athlete to compete in five Olympic Games.

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Caster Semenya, running (South Africa), two gold

South African intersex icon and middle-distance running world champion, Caster Semenya has broken records, but is now unable to participate in the Tokyo games. Photo: @947Joburg/Facebook

800 metre races are a speciality of Semenya, who is a double Olympic gold medal winner in the category, having won the race in 2012 in London and in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The athlete has however been barred from competing in the category at the Tokyo games due to her testosterone levels exceeding the limits set by track’s governing body for female athletes.

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  • YouTuber and Olympic diver Tom Daley, and Academy Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, are one of the world’s most high profile gay couples
  • Caster Semenya won gold at London and Rio de Janeiro – but now she’s barred from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, postponed to 2021 due to Covid-19