More than 9,000 LGBT athletes and 20,000 spectators, performers and volunteers flocked to the Rock and Roll Capital of the World during the week of Aug. 9-16 to participate in the Ninth Gay Games, the quadrennial series of international sporting and cultural competitions that has served as the “Gay Olympics” of sport since its launch in 1982. And, as one of the largest contingents attending this year’s games in Cleveland, a sizeable number of D.C. area athletes found themselves on the medal podium.
Brent Minor, the head of Team DC, the umbrella organization for LGBT and LGBT-friendly sports leagues in the D.C. area, says that the Washington Metropolitan area sent more than 250 athletes to this year’s games, putting D.C. among the top 10 cities in the world. Other cities with noticeably large contingents were host city Cleveland, San Francisco, Boston — which, like D.C., lost its bid to host this year’s games — and Paris, site of the 2018 Gay Games.
“Cleveland did a terrific job,” Minor says of both the planning and execution of the games, including offering free public transportation to athletes. “It was well-run and well-organized. And people felt extremely welcome here. We were happy to be here and happy to participate.”
Many of this year’s participants had such an enjoyable time that Team DC is going to host a “reunion” party at Nellie’s on Sept. 18, where the athletes can bring their medals, swap war stories, and socialize with new acquaintances they made during the games.
Robert York, who traveled with the Federal Triangles Soccer Club, says the games provide an outlet for athletes to play in an arena where they feel supported by everyone. Even other teams, after being eliminated from the medal hunt, would stand on the sidelines and cheer on the remaining competitors. York also praised Cleveland for its enthusiasm surrounding the games, ranging from the presence of banners and light displays throughout the city to an address given at the opening ceremonies by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winner Connie Schultz.
“The city was very excited to host,” York says. “I’d like to think D.C. would have done as well, or at least maybe had more resources. But Cleveland was on top of their game.”
The Gay Games were a banner year for D.C. in rock climbing, a relatively new and emerging sport and our city sent three participants to this year’s climbing event. D.C. local Bryan Yamasaki won a gold in men’s beginner/intermediate bouldering, where participants have to climb a 15- to 20-foot wall without using ropes. Yamasaki also won a silver in advanced climbing and Ben Smith won a bronze in beginner/intermediate climbing, where participants must scale a 45- to 50-foot high wall while tied into an established rope system.
Yamasaki expects the sport to grow in popularity and more D.C. people to participate in rock climbing at future international competitions.
“It was great,” he says. “I’m looking forward to OutGames in St. Louis in 2016, World OutGames in Miami in 2017, and Gay Games 10 in Paris in 2018.”
Another successful sport for D.C. athletes was rowing, where the DC Strokes Rowing Club cleaned up in the medals, winning more than any other rowing club. DC Strokes rowers, who numbered 24 in total, medaled in every event they entered except one, where there were mechanical issues with a rented boat, says Paul Heaton, spokesperson for the group.
D.C.-area rowers won gold in the men’s single, men’s pair, men’s 8 and mixed 8 races. They also won silver in the women’s 4 and men’s 8 races, and had two D.C. teams tie for bronze in the men’s 4 race. DC Strokes Club Team Captain Bach Polakowski took home the most medals of any local rower, going four for four in earning two golds, a silver and a bronze.
D.C. also raked in the medals in swimming, with athletes from the DC Aquatics Club (DCAC) winning medals in their respective age divisions. For women, Lindsey Warren-Shriner won golds in the 200-meter freestyle, 400-meter individual medley and 800-meter freestyle events in the 25-29 age division. DCAC’s Lucas Amodio, Derek Sady, and Neill Williams all won their age divisions for the 50-meter backstroke, and Geoffrey Heuchling placed third in his age division for that race. The DCAC 400-meter freestyle relay team for the 25-29 age division blew the rest of the field away, winning first with a time of 4 minutes, 13 seconds. Other top three finishers in their respective divisions included DCAC’s Eric Grasha, Jay Calhoun, Brendan Roddy, Dawson Nash, Mark Remaly, WonKee Moon, Matthew Kinney, Fred Dever and Craig Franz, as well as five separate 400-meter medley relay teams.
The DC Hookers team took silver in volleyball, the Washington Wetskins team took fifth in water polo, D.C.’s John Guzman took bronze in squash, and golfers Victor “Skip” Perry and Marty Ashley took gold and silver medals, respectively, in the men’s and women’s divisions. Perry also won a second gold in the men’s team competition, where he partnered with New York’s Fred Pfaff.
D.C. runner Brian Beary placed first in his age division and fifth overall in the 5-kilometer race, with a time of 17 minutes, 49.8 seconds. In men’s tennis doubles, the pairing of Tommy Lodge and Jonathan O’Brien won gold, while Matt Feinberg and T.J. Horwood won bronze. In bowling, Vince Sacro won a bronze for men’s singles in Division C and Wei Huey won a gold for mixed (men and women) singles in Division E, while Cecilia Ford won a gold in women’s doubles and a bronze in women’s singles.
Kevin Morris, a member of the DC Nationals softball team, said his team had a wonderful time, both playing at the games and sightseeing around the Greater Cleveland area, including a side trip to Cedar Point amusement park. Personally, Morris said, it was “frustrating” for the Nationals, who finished fifth in their division, but who had previously beaten the silver and bronze medalists in “pool play,” where the teams play each other on the first day of competition in order to be seeded for the playoffs.
“We just couldn’t hit the ball that final game,” Morris says. “We loaded the bases two times, but just couldn’t get our runners in.”
Morris regularly posted to Facebook during the trip, keeping fans and players at home up-to-date on progress and taking photos and videos of their adventures in the Forest City. He says it’s a shame that the organizers of the Gay Games and the host city don’t do more promotion for the event.
“Even if you’re not into sports and competition, you should know about the Gay Games,” he says. “It really needs the branding of a Pride celebration, because that’s really what the Gay Games are all about. You don’t even have to go to the sporting events. There’s plenty of other things to do.”
Team DC’s Gay Games Reunion for participating athletes and fans will be Thursday, Sept. 18, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Nellie’s Sports Bar, 900 U St. NW. Visit TeamDC.org.
See all 500 of Ward Morrison’s photos here.