Daniel Kowalski, who is an Australian swimming hero, has announced that he is gay. Kowalski is the winner of 4 Olympic medals, and at the 1996 Atlanta games became the first swimmer to medal in the 200m, 400m, and 1500m freestyle events since American Frances Gailey did it in 1904.
Editor’s note: (At the 1904 games, held in the US, Gailey Technically medaled in the 220 yard, 440 yard, 880 yard, and mile freestyles. At the time, the events were swum in open water, rather than pools, which accounts for the odd distances which were different fractions of a mile. The first games where a competition-pool was built was the 1908 Games in London, where a 100-meter pool was constructed.)
Kowalski outted himself in a column in the SundayAge newspaper. Although Kowalski is only the third elite Australian athlete to come out publically as a homosexual, Australia is a relatively gay-friendly country. They have several gay politicians, cabinet members, and other prominent people. Although Kowalski’s countrymen Ian Roberts, a rugby player, and Matthew Mitcham (the lone non-Chinese diving gold medalist at the 2008 Olympics, and the only openly-gay male athlete in Beijing) have both come out as gay, Kowalski turned to Welsh rugby player Garth Thomas for inspiration.
After reading about Thomas’ recent experience with coming out as a prominent athlete, Kowalski called him up to talk about his feelings. After their conversation, Kowalski claims to have felt “anger because I was jealous … he was out and felt liberated and free”.
”And it really got me thinking that I could do that (come out) if I wanted to. I felt really compelled to do it because it’s very tough to live a closeted existence.”
This announcement comes on the heels of a recent campaign by AFL (the top-level Australian Rules Football League) against homophobia in Australia. Several Australian athletes and coaches spoke out publically against the bigotry, something that is unlikely to happen in the machismo world of American football.
As for Kowalski, he has said that, in retirement, he longed for the same things that everyone wants: “I look for all the things straight people do. I want to fall in love and be happy and be proud of who I am.”