Speed skater Blake Skjellerup is on track to make history as the first out male athlete to compete in the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next year. The 28-year-old New Zealand-born heartthrob, who came out publicly in 2010, realizes that due to Russia’s notorious antigay bill his decision to compete in February is not necessarily a popular one with some LGBT people and their allies who encourage athletes to boycott. However, Skjellerup, who previously competed in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, sees his upcoming bid for the gold as an opportunity to create global awareness of the inequality and barbaric treatment of gays in Russia and change the hearts and minds of many homophobic people around the world.
Yet, as with most openly LGBT athletes, it’s nearly impossible to land lucrative endorsement deals to help finance his training and raise the $33, 000 needed to compete so Skjellerup has launched a funding campaign (complete with nice perks for donations) through Indiegogo. During a recent visit to Los Angeles, Skjellerup chatted with Queerty in his hotel room about why he opposes an Olympics boycott, advice he offers for closeted athletes and explains his penchant for sexy photo shoots.
When will you find out if you’re definitely going to Sochi?
Based on my world ranking from the past three years, I’ll definitely be going. For it to not happen something very, very wrong would have to take place, such as breaking a leg.
You’ll be the first out male athlete to compete in the winter Olympics. What sort of responsibility comes with that?
There’s a large responsibility that comes with it. For me it feels like I’ve come 360 in a way, since I was an 18-year-old watching the Olympics. It was an inspiring moment for me to watch Matthew Mitcham compete and win the gold. He was so open about his sexual orientation that he was my first role model, the first athlete I really looked up to. He was my first role model who encompassed everything I wanted to be. I, myself, have sort of become that person. I’m excited to be that person. It’s about being yourself, one hundred percent. Going to Sochi is something I’ve dreamt of for a very long time and despite these new laws coming into place in Russia I’m not going to go back into the closet. I’m going to compete to the best of my ability and be the person I want to be.
Do you hear from young people who look up to you as a role model?
I do hear from kids who are behind me and say they see me as an inspiration, which I think is great. I hope it encourages more people to come out, especially athletes because it’s such an unexplored ethics in sports. There’s still just a handful of us. I think it’s a healthy thing to have a role model to look up to.