By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
So, as I write this post- Eurogames trip report, I expected this article was going to go one of two ways. Either detailing a train wreck or reacting with pleasant surprise that it wasn’t a train wreck. If you’ve been following my writing here at Compete since 2017, you’ll know that when I feel like an LGBTQIA+ sports event is not organized up to any level of reasonable standards, I am very outspoken about it. Most notably, the 2015 Eurogames, 2017 World Outgames, 2019 Eurogames and the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Gay Games. To be frank, as an athlete, I don’t like it when the burdens of event organization are placed onto the athletes that are left scrambling due to lack of organizational and communicational requirements from the organizers for any sports tournament, let alone a big event.
Those bad experiences along with my own personal drama had a negative impact on my spirit and motivation to participate in such events in the future. When I did my first Gay Games in 2010, I felt like I was part of a greater community and magical event where I could be and do anything I set my mind too. It was such a thrill and a rush, one that had impacted me in many ways. By the time I arrived in Paris for the 2018 Gay Games, all of that was gone and I questioned why I bothered to spend the money for the trip in the first place. That is simply not who I want to be, and while 11 years since my first Gay Games, I am no longer the naive little twink that I was, it doesn’t mean the sense of magic and community is gone.
While nobody was really sure whether or not the 2021 Eurogames and Worldpride Event (both hosted together) would even happen due to covid, I certainly wasn’t jumping out of my seat to register. In fact, I had no desire to go anywhere near the event since I had no training in months and hadn’t swum in a meet in two years. A friend and teammate, however, was going and he wanted people to go with. He stepped up and pushed me (sometimes literally) into the pool, getting me to train with him and reluctantly I started coming around to the idea of attending the event. Of course, my expectations were quite low, not just for the event but for my own swimming performance, having only about a month of any kind of training, I wasn’t expecting to qualify for the Olympics or anything.
I can honestly say, I am pleasantly surprised by the whole event. While it wasn’t without its own hiccups, as an athlete and participant, I never felt the organizational burden of the event on my shoulders. I arrived in Copenhagen with two teammates and within the first day of the swim meet, I met up with many swimming friends I’ve known from all over the world. We even had a group that self-organized to hang out together throughout the rest of the trip, from swimming, partying, sightseeing, riding roller coasters and all sorts of fun adventures. Friends from the USA, all over Europe and even Central America, Asia, and Australia. One of the things I really love about LGBTQIA+ sports events is that it truly is a sense of community, I know and have met many people who attend these events, and we see each other at every one (in addition to following each other on social media). Since it had been over two years since my last swim meet plus my move to Germany and the global pandemic, it felt great to reconnect with some of these friends again and to meet so many new ones.
The Eurogames event overall was smaller than initially expected due to the pandemic, but even then, there was still a great turn out and the organizers did a great job putting it all together. They even had a mini drag show on deck, which you know it’s not an LGBTQIA+ swimming event if you don’t have drag queens at the pool. As expected, my swimming times were not remarkable, but they were still good enough to be competitive in the meet and while my focus wasn’t on winning medals, it was nice to come home with a silver and a bronze. This event was also very remarkable for me to force myself to loosen up a bit. In the 2010 Gay Games, I had a great time engaging in many of the social events surrounding the competition and having a… fabulous experience. In the years after though, I became more focused on the competition itself at the expense of the social events and while this certainly helped me win a few more medals, I missed out on a lot of the essence of the event. Coming into this Eurogames, I (like everybody else on the planet), needed a vacation and to loosen up a bit. For me, this meant stepping outside of my comfort zone and (as some of my friends would say), be a bit less “prude” about certain things. The Eurogames being coupled with World Pride, which is a large international LGBTQIA+ pride festival held every two years, made sure that there was a lot going on for me to do. One of the initial highlights was participating in a discussion on the intersectionality of LGBTQIA+ discrimination and racism in sports. There was also many different social events and parties, several big World Pride marches and just a generally big, festive and inclusive atmosphere all throughout Copenhagen. It was a very refreshing experience, and I felt a bit more like I did when I attended my first Gay Games and it reminded me of why I love these kinds of events and have been such an active participant in the LGBTQIA+ sports movement for 12 years now. I am looking forward to what comes next!
Photo by Olav Holten via QX.se