August 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm EDT | by Kevin Majoros
The thrill of victory
Gay Games, gay news, Washington Blade

Many D.C. athletes participated in the previous Gay Games in Cologne, Germany. (Washington Blade file photo by Kevin Majoros)

It has been four years since Washington lost the bid to host the 2014 Gay Games to Cleveland/Akron and it has been four years of wondering if that Ohio metro area was capable of luring athletes from all over the world.

No more wondering. Today, close to 7,000 athletes from 51 countries are traveling to northern Ohio to compete in about 35 sports and two cultural events, band and chorus.  The founding principles of the Gay Games, “participation, inclusion and personal best,” are once again ringing true and Cleveland/Akron is ready to host the largest LGBT sporting event in the world.

“We are excited to welcome athletes and their supporters from all over the world to the Cleveland/Akron area,” says Tom Nobbe, executive director of Gay Games 9. “We expect people to compete at whatever level they are capable of during the day and then enjoy all that Cleveland/Akron has to offer at night.”

Last week at the Team D.C. uniform party at Nellie’s Sports Bar, there was excitement in the air.

“Festival Village is going to be the place where everyone will want to start their night,” Nobbe says. “We have lined up some fantastic entertainment and then everyone can head off to the parties being offered such as White Party, Black Party, Block Party and Women’s Party. There will also be free buses shuttling people to Akron for events such as the Indigo Girls concert.”

Though the participation numbers for Cleveland/Akron are lower than the 2010 Cologne Games (8,800 athletes with 2,900 from Germany alone), the Team D.C. contingent has tripled in size to almost 300 athletes who will compete in 19 sports along with several D.C. musicians who are going for the band event.

Any one of the teams or individuals from the Team D.C. contingent could be considered potential medal contenders.

In the team competitions, the players from the D.C. Sentinels basketball team, the flag football players from the D.C. Gay Flag Football League and the Washington Wetskins water polo team have all notched tournament wins in the last year.

“I am excited to see what Cleveland has to offer and what they have put together for us,” says basketball player Gerard Burley (also a Blade fitness columnist). “I have heard that the basketball facilities at Cleveland State are top notch.”

In the individual events, look for Chuck Harney in cycling, Bryan Frank in triathlon and the world champion D.C. Aquatics Club swimmers including Lindsey Warren-Shriner and Neill Williams to bring home medals. At the 2010 Cologne Gay Games, the DCAC swimmers won 58 of the 100 medals won by D.C. athletes.

The Gay Games does not track individual medals won over the years though they do track countries. In 2010, the top five medal winners in order were the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia and France.

Neill Williams of DCAC has possibly won more medals than anyone in the history of the Games having won roughly 38 medals in swimming over five Gay Games, most of them gold. He is entered in multiple events in Cleveland.

Records are also not tracked at the Gay Games, though each governing body of the sanctioned sports allows records to be set and world and American records have been broken many times over the years.

You will also be hard pressed to find many active Olympians or professional athletes competing at the Games. Most of those types of athletes are looking for tune-up events against athletes they will be competing against in the Olympics or their respective world championships.

As for retired elite athletes, they basically have a bullseye on their back if they choose to compete. Former professional football player Wade Davis has said of competing in the Gay Bowl flag football championships, “I feel like everyone is gunning for me. Who doesn’t want to take down a former pro athlete?”

Olympic diving gold medalist Greg Louganis and Olympic swimming gold medalist Bruce Hayes both have competed at the Gay Games after they ended their Olympic careers. They both captured gold medals in their respective sports.

This year in Cleveland/Akron, Olympic short-track speed skater, Blake Skjellerup, will be competing in the cycling road race.

As for the other high-profile LGBT athletes, they appear as ambassadors at the Gay Games and have included names such as Louganis, Hayes, Skjellerup, Billy Bean, Rudy Galindo, Martina Navratilova, David Kopay, Matthew Mitcham, Leigh-Ann Naidoo and Esera Tuaolo

For the first time, several of the competitions will be streamed live during the week on the CCE Sports Network. The network will also be live streaming during the staging of the opening ceremonies, the closing ceremonies and live interviews with the athletes in Festival Village.

The sports with D.C. athletes are basketball, volleyball, cycling, triathlon, open water swimming, rock climbing, tennis, water polo, bowling, swimming, golf, racquetball, flag football, rowing, running, soccer, softball, track & field and sailing.

The Gay Games 9 website will have updates on a daily basis for those who wish to check in for results and entertainment options.

Michael Saxvik, Dana Connors, Neill Williams, 2014 Gay Games, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Saxvik, Dana Connors and Neill Williams of the District of Columbia Aquatics Club are all headed to Cleveland/Akron for the 2014 Gay Games. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros)

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