Are Ireen Wust and Michael Sam in the News for the Wrong Reasons?

While Wust is, in fact, a lesbian, she prefers the term ‘Dutch.’


Wust photo by M. Smelter via Wikimedia Commons.

Ireen Wust, a speed skater, recently won the gold medal in the 3000 meter race for the Netherlands. This impressive 27-year-old woman also won gold medals in Vancouver and Turin.

”Seventeen million Dutch wanted me to win,” Wust told reporters. ”Now the extreme pressure is off, and I can win more.”

Also, Ireen Wust is a lesbian.

Out of the thousands of Olympic athletes, there are only seven openly gay competitors in Sochi this year, and Wust is one of them. In fact, she is the first of all seven to win a gold medal for her country. While she is, in fact, a lesbian, she prefers the term “Dutch.” Ireen Wust is not defined by her sexuality, in the same way that any heterosexual athlete is not defined by his or hers.

But Ireen Wust is a lesbian.

“You are not asking (Dutch speedskater) Sven Kramer about how his relationship is going,” Wust said in 2010. “So why would you ask me? If I would’ve had a relationship with a guy, you wouldn’t have asked me either.”

Wust does not use her position in the spotlight to discuss gays in sports, but rather her passion for the sports themselves. Her 19 gold medals in speed skating prove that she is exceptionally good at what she does.

But Irene Wust is a lesbian.

While Wust may be a role model for gay athletes everywhere, she is also an exceptional athlete just like any straight Olympian. This is why the focus of her career should not be on who she’s dating, or that person’s gender, but instead on her Olympic success.

But Ireen Wust is a lesbian.

Gay Olympians are generally referred to as “gay” before they’re referred to as talented athletes. This is probably because of the scarce number of ‘out’ athletes in the Olympics. The apparent lack of homosexuals may be the result of discrimination against openly gay people in sports more generally, or maybe it’s because of the discrimination against openly gay people in the Olympics that makes them shy away from ‘coming out.’

The setting of this year’s Olympics may be one factor. Russia, as it is today, is a dangerous place for openly gay people, a place where it would take remarkable courage for anyone to come out.

Earlier this week, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, an N.F.L prospect, publicly and courageously ‘came out of the closet.’ While this should not have changed the way he is perceived as an athlete, some commentators believe the announcement diminishes his draft prospects. Some might argue that his announcement ruined his career, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Homosexuality didn’t hurt him. Homophobia did.

Greg Louganis, an Olympic athlete in the 1980s, is another exceptional athlete who just so happened to be homosexual. Louganis, however, did not come out until after he retired from the Olympics. This American diver’s amazing achievements just go to show that his sexuality did not affect his ability at all. So why are we still discriminating against homesexual athletes?

Imagine how you’d feel if you had spent all of your life working hard to make it into the Olympics. Imagine how you’d feel if you made it. Imagine how you’d feel if you won multiple gold medals for your country. That would feel good, right? Great, even. But imagine how you’d feel if the whole world skimmed through your achievements and your hard-earned medals and all they saw was one little fact about your life that, for some reason, speaks louder than all of your successes.

Did I mention that Ireen Wust is a lesbian?

Discrimination against homosexuals in sports is not a new phenomenon, and it could be considered remarkable that there are any ‘out’ competitors in the Olympics at all. It is very unfortunate that this is so. There are so few ‘out’ homosexuals in the Olympics and other sports because of the intolerance that plagues the world of sports. Wust is not exceptional because of her sexuality. What makes her exceptional isn’t that she’s one of the few gays in sports;  she is exceptional because… well, she just is.

So yeah, Ireen Wust is a lesbian. But she’s also an incredible athlete. And isn’t that what counts?