sochi olympics

John Fennell

Canadian men’s luger came out as gay during Sochi Olympics

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Canadian luger John Fennell had a moment of clarity in a training session two weeks before the Sochi Olympics. A man who had no reservations about lying on a sled and whirling down an icy chute at 85 mph finally felt compelled to face a very different fear.

“How in the world can I be brave enough to go down this hill and not be brave enough to be who I am,” Fennell said.

Fennell decided then he would be true to himself, beginning at his first Olympics. How he came to that decision was reported in the Calgary Herald on Wednesday.

He came out to teammates and Canadian Olympic Committee officials after the luge competition. Fennell’s act of bravery took place in what he called a tough environment. He traveled to Russia feeling like a basket case and very aware of the situation with the nation’s anti-gay legislation. He also knew there were no other openly gay male Olympians in Sochi.

“Of all places, I had to pick out that one [to come out],” Fennell joked in a phone interview on his 19th birthday on Wednesday. “There was quite a bit of hype going into it because of the gay rights issues in Russia, which wasn’t the case when I landed. Once I got there, it was a very safe environment. … Once I got to the Olympic Village, I felt like part of the family.”

Fennell, who started luge at 10 and was a 14-year-old spectator at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, finished 27th in his Olympic debut in Russia, before coming out.

He waited until after the team relay four nights later to tell the first person, Canadian luge captain and three-time Olympian Sam Edney. Fennell was so caught up in what he would say that he didn’t realize he was talking to a man who felt awful.

Edney had just missed perhaps his only shot at an Olympic medal by one tenth of a second hours earlier. Edney, 29, and three more of Fennell’s teammates had finished fourth in the luge relay.

Fennell confided in Edney, who responded with a big hug and told the teenager, “Nothing changes.”

“It was pretty relieving to hear that,” Fennell said.

The Calgary native then told more teammates and Canadian Olympic Committee members before leaving Russia. He told his family and friends when he arrived home in Calgary.

Fennell was one of three 18-year-olds to place in the top 30 of the Sochi men’s luge competition. He’s committed for another four years with an eye on the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He says he feels perfectly confident to travel to compete again in Russia, or anywhere.

“I think it can be said when you have something eating at you and a lot of emotional stress and anxiety about something, especially in this nature, once that’s been resolved or dealt with, it’s a very liberating feeling,” Fennell said. “You can put 100 percent effort back into training and sliding, too. It will fundamentally shift the way I see my sport.”

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Avalanche at Sochi Olympics skiing resort kills 2

Rosa Khutor
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An avalanche at the Sochi Olympics mountain resort killed two skiers Sunday, the day after it opened to the public, according to The Associated Press.

Here’s the report:

Six skiers were on the middle section of Labirint run when the avalanche struck, Roza Khutor said in a statement. The snow buried two women, and rescuers who dug them out were unable to save them, it said, while the four other skiers escaped unharmed.

The resort said it was clearing the snow from the run and trying to determine the cause of the avalanche. The Roza Khutor management also expressed its condolences to the family and friends of the two skiers who died.

A map of the mountain shows the Labirint run located at the far edge of the resort and labeled black, the most difficult of four categories.

Skiing and snowboarding events were held in Rosa Khutor during the Olympics and Paralympics. The Paralympics concluded one week ago, and the resort reopened to the public Saturday, according to the AP.

The resort’s area received an avalanche warning in December, four days before it opened for the ski season.

There was a team of experts devoted solely to avalanche prevention in Rosa Khutor, as detailed by The New York Times.

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Retired figure skater Elvis Stojko to star in ‘Chicago’ musical

Elvis Stojko
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Elvis Stojko is keeping busy in retirement.

His latest project is starring in the musical “Chicago” as the lead male part — Billy Flynn — beginning in March, according to the Canadian Press.

“People think of me as only a skater. What they don’t know is that I love musicals,” Stojko said in a statement, according to the Canadian Press. “Now I finally have the chance to play a great role in one of the greatest musicals of all time. I’m very excited.”

Stojko, 41, competed in four Olympics, winning silver in 1994 and 1998. He also won three world championships (1994, 1995, 1997). Since his last Olympics, 2002, he’s done some singing, actinggo-karting and won a Canadian Kung Fu Championship.

In the Olympic world, he made the most news at the 2010 Vancouver Games for his analysis of the men’s figure skating competition. Stojko wrote that the sport “took a step backward” with Evan Lysacek winning gold without a quadruple jump.

Which is why it’s notable that Stojko’s “Chicago” venture does not start until March in Toronto. Perhaps he will be in Sochi in February, taking stock of the men’s competition again. The quad is now a staple for every top men’s skater, including Lysacek.

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