Olympic swimmer Ari-Pekka Liukkonen has made sports history as the first Finnish athlete to come out publicly as gay while still active in his career. Liukkonen, who competed in the 2012 Olympics in London and took a bronze medal at the European Championships the same year, says he decided to come out to raise awareness for Russia’s antigay laws ahead of the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, reports Finnish news site Yle.
“I wanted to start a broader discussion in connection with Sochi, because it’s sad that the legislation in Russia restricts the human rights of young people and others,” Liukkonen said about his decision.
Liukkonen added that he hopes his coming out will lead to a more open attitude about sexual orientation in sports and that eventually it will no longer be considered news. “Homosexuality is the same kind of characteristic as whether a person has blue or brown eyes, or whether they are left- or right-handed,” he offered.
The swimmer came out to his family gradually over the past two years and said their response was very encouraging.
“My family has received the news positively, and everyone has supported me,” Liukkonen revealed, adding that they had already sensed that he’s gay.
“It’s a really great feeling that I can finally be myself,” he shared.
Liukkonen has suffered from mycoplasma for the past two years, but is optimistic about competing in the Rio Olympic games in 2016.