Sunday, 2 February 2014

A swimmer-pioneer: Ari-Pekka Liukkonen first openly gay Finnish athlete

Finnish sprint ace Ari-Pekka Liukkonen has created some waves in his native country as he's come out as gay. This makes the 24 year old the first ever active national level athlete, in any sport, to announce their homosexuality.

It shouldn't be news in 2014, but that amazing fact stresses the point that it still has to be. It takes a lot of courage and bravery to break ground in a country obviously still stuck in the 20th century on these matters.

Liukkonen came public on the matter in an interview with finnish national broadcaster YLE, stating that he feels obliged to highlight the matter leading into the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. 

The Russian "anti-gay"-legislation has been subject to a great deal of debacle leading up to the Games, and the Finnish swimmer wanted to have his say on the matter. He hopes to start a debate in his home country about gay rights leading up to the Games.
"It’s sad that the legislation in Russia restricts the human rights of young people and others. Homosexuals have the same rights as people with brown or blue eyes, as people that are right- or left handed," said the Olympic Swimmer speaking on the Urheiluviikonloppu-show.
The 24 year old tells a story about denial and oppressed feelings when he first started to realize he was gay. He thought it was just a phase.

During high school he started to comprehend that it was not something that would pass. 
"Acceptance was hard, but not necessarily horribly hard either. It's been a long process for me," says Liukkonen.
He told his sister first, a couple of years ago. A month ago he told his parents, who according to the 24 year old has been supportive after receiving the news.
"I wanted to tell my parents before I went public. They've shown great support," he says. 
"Finally I can be myself. But I want to stress that I'll still be the same Ari-Pekka that is going to swim the 50 meters freestyle and one day beat the World Record. I want to win the Olympics in a World Record-time."
Ari-Pekka Liukkonen is the Finnish national record holder with a 22,22 personal best. He came fourth at the European Long Course Championships in 2012 with that time.

He participated at the London Olympic Games and won a bronze medal with the Finnish relay team in the 4x50 meters mixed freestyle at the 2012 European Short Course Championships.

Today's revelations might be his biggest achievement yet though.