Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gay Swimmers To Make History at 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials





A huge congratulations is owed to Brian Jacobsen (top photo) from Minnesota! The 37-year old openly gay administrator at the Univ of Minnesota just became the second-oldest male swimmer in history to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials. He eclipsed the qualifying standard of 23.49 in the 50-meter freestyle by two-hundredths of a second at last evening's U.S. Grand Prix Swim Meet in Minneapolis. His time of 23.47 guarantees him a spot to swim at next summer's U.S. Olympic Trials. He joins Jeff Commings (second photo) - who is also openly gay and also 37 years old (though a couple months younger than Brian) - as two of the three oldest male swimmers EVER to make the U.S. Olympic Trials. Commings, a former NCAA Champion at the University of Texas-Austin, punched his ticket to trials last summer in the 100 meter breaststroke!

If you didn't catch all that, here's the summary - TWO OPENLY GAY SWIMMERS, BRIAN JACOBSEN AND JEFF COMMINGS, HAVE MADE HISTORY BY BECOMING THE 2ND AND 3RD OLDEST MEN IN HISTORY TO QUALIFY FOR THE U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS - BOTH WILL BE 38 YEARS OLD WHEN THEY SWIM AT TRIALS NEXT SUMMER!

As a former Division III National Champion while swimming at Denison University from 1997-2001, and currently a founding partner and Chief of Communications for OffTo.com, a new travel site offering discounted getaways customized for the LGBT community - I want to express to the LGBT community exactly why this is such a monumental accomplishment!!

In a little over 9 months, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London will capture the hearts and minds of athletes, coaches and fans around the world! But for elite swimmers, the Olympics is NOT the most competitive swim meet in the world - nope, that title belongs to the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials.

About six to seven weeks prior to the Olympic Games, the very best U.S. swimmers will gather in Omaha, Nebraska to compete for the chance to represent the Stars and Stripes in London. Only the top 2 swimmers in each event are guaranteed an Olympic berth - but U.S. swimmers that finish as low as 5th or 6th in their best event at trials will post times fast enough to earn an Olympic medal in London were it not for their slightly quicker countrymen.

From top to bottom - across all events - the U.S. Olympic Trials is the fastest swim meet in the world with the most difficult qualifying standards. For U.S. swimmers, qualifying for the Olympic Trials is the highest measure of success short of winning an Olympic medal. To put the qualifying standards in perspective, roughly 1,250 athletes total are expected to compete in next summer's Olympic trials. THAT'S 1/2 OF A SINGLE PERCENT OF ALL THE COMPETITIVE SWIMMERS IN THE UNITED STATES!!

There has always been an interesting relationship between competitive swimming and sexual identity. Since a swimmer's "uniform" involves little more than the body they've built over hundreds of thousands of training yards, swimming is arguably the most sexualized of all Olympic sports - with the exception of wrestling (but that's a different article entirely). Back when I was an elite high school and college swimmer, no one dared mention the prospect of a swimmer being gay. Due in part to the sexualized uniform and close physical proximity to members of the same sex during training, many of my teammates were overtly homophobic to proactively assert their heterosexuality lest anyone would think otherwise based on their chosen sport. The result was that closeted athletes, including me, often retreated further into the closet until very late in my college career - around 2001.

What a difference 10 years makes! Not only are openly gay swimmers visible all over the world - but swimming is also recognized as one of the most progressive and accepting sports with regard to sexual identity. And it's not just high school and college athletes - elite swimmers like Brian Jacobsen and Jeff Commings are proving that you can simultaneously embrace your sexual identity, your love of competition, and the desire so many athletes have to continue improving - not matter what their chronological age may be. Their accomplishments are historic and ground-breaking and I sincerely hope they don't go unnoticed!!