victory lap

Pro swimmer Michael Gunning continues to inspire both in an out of the pool

After a life of competitive performance, Michael Gunning’s legacy in the Jamaican and UK swimming scenes alike has been thoroughly cemented.

As a quick glance at his Instagram will demonstrate, Gunning is a world class athlete, a proud gay man, and an absolute cutie pie.


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A post shared by Michael Gunning (@michaelgunning1)

Raised and originally competing in the UK, Gunning fought off the biased, debunked stereotype that Black people are inherently poorer swimmers from his peers all throughout his youth. By age 13, he had already nabbed his first national swimming title.

Gunning switched to swimming representing Jamaica, his father’s home nation, in 2017. For years, in events like the Manchester International Swim Meet and the World Aquatics Championships, Gunning bore the flag of Jamaica.

In 2018, he participated in Rupaul’s Drag Race alum Courtney Act’s queer dating show The Bi Life, on which he came out — not as bi, but as gay. A courageous act as it is, but even more so when internationally representing a country once popularly written about as “the most homophobic place on Earth.”


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A post shared by Michael Gunning (@michaelgunning1)

After years of competition, Gunning seemed poised to go straight to the top in the 2020 season. The COVID-19 pandemic struck during what was supposed to be the final stretch towards the 2020 Olympic games, and at the time, he was in perfect form to make the team.

Almost overnight, virtually every pool and gym facility in the country was shut down, the Olympic cycle was extended another full year, and Gunning was stuck locked down in a country he wasn’t even set to represent.


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A post shared by Michael Gunning (@michaelgunning1)

As he didn’t represent Team GB internationally, Gunning wasn’t allowed any assistance in the UK’s professional swimming facilities and had to train himself with no coach for months, just trying to keep himself in the same qualifying prime that should’ve already had him on his way to the games. Still, he kept his trademark smile on and kept working as best he could.

In July of 2021, after shifting guidelines on both the pandemic and the Olympic response thereof, Gunning shared in a lengthy statement on his blog that he officially had not made the Olympic team after all.

The post served as a heartfelt telling of the story that had led him to that point, and explained towards the end that the unfair conditions that led to his not being in exactly proper Olympic form could have played out differently:

“Speaking simply, I do feel like I’ve been robbed of a fair opportunity of racing/competing here in Great Britain, as several other ‘international’ athletes around the world have had the chance (due to merciful terms and conditions) to race and compete in safe environments. However, I can understand that the safety rules for athletes and/or nations are set in place to protect their own athletes from COVID, and this ruling has not played to my favour this time.”

It seems that this disappointing turn served as something of a sign for the swimmer. Earlier this year, Gunning formally announced his retirement from professional swimming.

Now entering his retirement, it’s clear that Gunning’s role as an advocate for both the Black and queer communities is just as meaningful to him going forward as his swimming has been.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Gunning stated, “I’ve got so much more to give the world. I haven’t achieved all I wanted in my career but, now I’m retiring from competitive swimming, I don’t feel I failed.

“Yes, I haven’t qualified for the Olympics or won that world title. But the amount of lives that I’ve impacted means more to me than medals.”

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