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Olympism in Action Forum

#UnitedBy equality - Eric Radford

Eric Radford is a Canadian two-time pair skating world champion along with skating partner Meagan Duhamel. He is also the first openly gay male winter Olympic champion and a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s One Team programme, which promotes LGBTQ equality across sports.

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In the run-up to the Olympism in Action Forum in Buenos Aires (5-6 October 2018), we looked at groups and individuals who, inspired by the power of sport to contribute to a better world, have used their initiative to organise projects and programmes to effect change at all levels.

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Medal of Courage

When two-time pair skating Olympic champion Eric Radford came out as gay in 2014, it was the height of his career.

“Before I came out, one of the fears I had was how it might change the judges’ perception of me when I was performing with my partner, Meagan Duhamel,” he says. “I thought there was a possibility that maybe it would affect our marks. In the end, it didn't affect our marks at all and, if anything, we had the best season we've ever had. I felt as if an invisible weight had been lifted off my shoulders when I was performing on the ice. I was just a little bit more free to express myself more deeply and with more sincerity, and I think that was when it started to show the most.”

 

And he was right. Freeing himself from the secret confines of his sexuality allowed him to confidently come into his own without any trepidation, which translated throughout his subsequent Olympic performances. Radford’s newfound confidence resulted in outstanding achievements, including being the first openly gay male to take home a gold medal during the winter Games and winning top honours as part of the figure skating team, becoming one of the oldest Olympic champions in the category.

Setting an Example

Finding the courage and confidence to live his truth wasn’t easy. Growing up in Balmertown, Ontario, a small Canadian community, Radford was often bullied for his love of skating. But despite being picked on, he persevered and followed his passion. Having overcome that adversity gave him the strength to encourage and inspire young people to be themselves and follow their dreams, despite the naysayers and detractors.

“I hope that I can be a role model for young LGBTQ athletes and provide an example that I didn't have when I was younger. I thought of how much easier growing up would have been if I saw somebody on TV, if I saw somebody in the news, who was having a lot of success while being openly gay and not afraid to just be themselves. I think that telling my story will just give them something to relate to on a specific level. I hope that my success in my sport lets them know that whatever their background, everything is possible, and they can achieve their dreams the way that I did.”

IOC/BURNETT, David
 

However, Radford is fully aware that timing is everything and not everyone will be able to come out as quickly as others due to personal choices and circumstances.

“From my own experience, I understand how difficult it can be if you're hiding part of who you are from your teammates, coaches or family. My first piece of advice would be to take some time to become comfortable and accept yourself. I never want to tell anybody that they must come out, because I do understand that there are scenarios in which coming out can be dangerous. But I think another big step is to find that person who you can talk to about your sexuality, and maybe eventually that will lead you to be able to be open about it with everybody in your life.”

Radford was in his prime and at the top of his career when he made the choice to discuss his sexuality in a magazine. And he doesn’t have any regrets.

“At the time I made the decision to come out, I was in a great place in my life and in my career. Meagan and I were having an undefeated season, which eventually led us to winning our first world title. I felt that it was just the right time to tell my story.”

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A Perfect Partnership

Being an Olympic gold medallist is special and undoubtedly rewarding, but getting too wrapped up in the hoopla can cause people to lose a sense of their identity and purpose. While Radford is grateful for his Olympic accolades, he’s glad that his athletic accomplishments give him the opportunity to fulfil other endeavours that can make a difference.

“If you're an Olympic athlete you're supposed to be motivated, relentlessly, you're just supposed to go and work as hard as it's supposed to take, no matter what,” he says. “But I think that if you don't keep a balance in your life and you lose yourself in that, you can also lose your identity and the meaning behind why you're trying to achieve what you're trying to achieve.”

Today, Radford works with the Canadian Olympic Committee on the One Team initiative, which promotes LGBTQ inclusion and respect in schools and sport throughout the country. He knows first-hand that having support and encouragement can make a big difference in a person’s life.


I hope that I can be a role model for young LGBTQ athletes and provide an example that I didn't have when I was younger. Eric Radford

“I feel very fortunate that my Olympic experience will give me a platform and a larger voice to make change beyond just my sport, and beyond just a moment in time at the Games. I’m able to do that by through my work with the One Team programme. Its aim is to create safe environments for people of all backgrounds in their sporting communities.”

As a young person who was a victim of mistreatment and harassment, speaking out about injustices surrounding LGBTQ issues is something that hits home for Radford.

“The work I've done with One Team so far has mostly just been speaking at schools, talking to classrooms about my experience. I gave one talk on being bullied growing up, how things are different now, and types of outlets that are available to struggling youth. I’m trying to provide all LGBTQ youth, not just athletes, with information and support by sharing my story.”

An Undeniable Impact

The Olympic Games can open the doors to countless opportunities for participants to use their voices for good. But without the initial desire and passion to pursue greatness that drove them to become Olympians in the first place, many of their voices would never be heard. The undeniable bonding nature of the Olympics is something that’s unique and utterly profound.

 

“The Olympics, and the idea of the Olympics, is like a feeling inside of you. It's a combination of the feeling of success, the feeling of overcoming incredible obstacles, the feeling of dealing with failure, and the feeling of overcoming the fear of failure into a big snowball. That, combined with the human connection, allows everything to come together to form an emotion that is relatable to everyone on the planet. The Olympics are an incredible thing. It's hard to think of anything else in the world that really has that power.”

For Radford, becoming an Olympic champion may have been a professional goal, but the unquantifiable impact he wields by sharing his story with those following behind him is boundless.

“Coming into these Games I didn't really have a plan. I didn't know that I was going to have success and be known as one of the first ‘out’ athletes to win at the Winter Olympics. I'm going to take this opportunity, run with it, and hope that I can extend my reach beyond just this moment in time.”

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