Sochi 2014: Gay athlete promises openly defiant stance at Games

Story highlights

  • Openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup says he will stand up for his beliefs in Sochi
  • New Zealander intends to wear rainbow-themed badge at Games if he qualifies
  • 28-year-old says he is standing in solidarity with "oppressed" Russians.

He's unlikely to break a world record or even win a medal but New Zealand's Blake Skjellerup is likely to generate plenty of headlines if he gets to February's Winter Olympics.

The speed skater is currently the only openly gay athlete who could compete in Sochi, at a Games already tinged by Russia's controversial laws on homosexuality.

The June ruling prohibits the distribution of information to minors promoting same-sex relationships and the public discussion of gay rights, but Skjellerup has promised not to shy away from the issue.

Instead, he's planning to tackle it head on.

Read: Putin says gays and lesbians welcome in Sochi

And if Russian President Vladimiar Putin, who signed off the bill, is sincere when recently saying that all competitors will be welcome -- "regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation" -- then the 28-year-old's potential arrival will be the acid test.

Especially if he starts wearing the rainbow badge that has been made especially for him, one bearing the words "Blake Skjellerup -- Proud 2014".

Olympian opposes Russia boycott
Olympian opposes Russia boycott

    JUST WATCHED

    Olympian opposes Russia boycott

MUST WATCH

Olympian opposes Russia boycott 03:55
PLAY VIDEO
Could Russia arrest gay athletes?
Could Russia arrest gay athletes?

    JUST WATCHED

    Could Russia arrest gay athletes?

MUST WATCH

Could Russia arrest gay athletes? 01:30
PLAY VIDEO
Athletes: Sochi boycott not the answer
Athletes: Sochi boycott not the answer

    JUST WATCHED

    Athletes: Sochi boycott not the answer

MUST WATCH

Athletes: Sochi boycott not the answer 01:34
PLAY VIDEO
Russia will enforce anti-gay law
Russia will enforce anti-gay law

    JUST WATCHED

    Russia will enforce anti-gay law

MUST WATCH

Russia will enforce anti-gay law 02:47
PLAY VIDEO

"I will express my feelings and emotions openly (in Sochi)," the Kiwi told CNN.

"I am not going to go back into the closet in any way. I am proud of who I am.

"Yes, Sochi is about my competitive nature -- it's about me competing as a speed skater -- but on the other hand, it's about standing up for what I believe in and being proud of that."

Skjellerup came out after competing at the last Winter Olympics, saying he had chosen not to do so beforehand in order to avoid unwanted distractions in his build-up.

In Vancouver four years ago, he reached the quarterfinals in the men's 1000m short-track event -- and he will soon find out if he has qualified for the 500m at next year's Games.

Another reason given for not coming out prior to the 2010 Games was a reluctance to alienate sponsors and in August, Skjellerup launched an online campaign to generate funds for his Sochi participation.

This was predicated upon a desire to represent the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, with the Kiwi explaining in a promotional video that "love is a human right" and decrying the fact that the act of same-sex couples holding hands in Russia could lead to a jail term.

He has also produced a badge that he will sell to raise funds for his participation and which he intends to wear in Russia, despite the punishments that could come his way.

"The idea behind the pins is about showing a part of me that I am very proud to be," explained a man who lives and trains in the Canadian city Calgary.

Read: Russian activists lobby U.S. on anti-gay law

"In my mind, it is no different to (sporting) a cross or a cultural tattoo. The pin is something I can wear to show that I am proud of who I am and also offer solidarity to the people of Russia, because it is not fair what is happening to them.

"I am in their country, I should respect that but I respect them, because they are the ones who are being oppressed -- and they are the ones who are having to hide who they are and having to live their lives in a way that isn't healthy."

Is Sochi ready?
Is Sochi ready?

    JUST WATCHED

    Is Sochi ready?

MUST WATCH

Is Sochi ready? 02:22
PLAY VIDEO
Sochi Olympic torch takes a spacewalk
Sochi Olympic torch takes a spacewalk

    JUST WATCHED

    Sochi Olympic torch takes a spacewalk

MUST WATCH

Sochi Olympic torch takes a spacewalk 01:01
PLAY VIDEO
Amputee skier is ready for the Olympics
Amputee skier is ready for the Olympics

    JUST WATCHED

    Amputee skier is ready for the Olympics

MUST WATCH

Amputee skier is ready for the Olympics 02:57
PLAY VIDEO

In August, Human Rights First issued a report on the anti-gay "propaganda" law and on the state of LGBT rights in Russia called "Convenient Targets."

Since 2006, it says, 10 regional legislative bodies have adopted laws prohibiting the "propaganda" of homosexuality but those laws have seldom been applied.

It also reports that during the first half of 2013 there were 13 beatings and one murder "motivated by anti-gay bias." In 2012, there were 12 attacks; in 2011, three.

On a visit to inspect Sochi's facilities in September, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) dismissed concerns over the bill.

"As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied. This is the case," said Jean-Claude Killy, who headed up the visiting IOC delegation.

There have been widespread calls for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics in light of the anti-gay laws, but Skjellerup takes a very different view.

"I think being Sochi is a good thing -- not just for me but for this human rights movement," he said.

"It's something that shouldn't be there, and the fact that it came into law in 2013 is absurd.

"I don't know what they were thinking nor what the intent is behind this. It makes no sense to me."

        Sports spotlight

      • AG2R pair Peraud and Romain Bardet (right) thrilled the French fans with their performances on the 2014 Tour de France.

        When will French win Le Tour?

        Whisper it quietly, but after years of foreign domination the prospect of a French winner of the Tour de France is more than just a mere pipe dream.
      • Steve Way leads the in the Commonwealth Games marathon with the favorites massing behind him.

        From 20-a-day man to 26.2 miles

        Seven years ago Steve Way was a 20 per day smoker and weighed a hefty 104 kg, but he led the marathon at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
      • The queen of the selfies

        After just one day of competition, a new sport has emerged at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow: snapping selfies with the Queen.
      • Joanna Rowsell is flanked by Australian duo Annette Edmonson and Amy Cure (right) after the medal presentation for the women's individual pursuit.

        Rowsell stands proud again

        Inspirational cyclist Joanna Rowsell added another gold to her growing collection in the individual pursuit at the Commonwealth Games.
      • GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 23: John Barrowman performs during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

        Gay kiss steals Glasgow show

        At the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, an actor upstaged the Queen by kissing a male dancer.
      • Daniel Carter of the All Blacks in action during the Third Test Match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France at Yarrow Stadium on June 22, 2013 in New Plymouth, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

        Can the All Blacks make history?

        The All Blacks and their fans are focused on one thing, says Dan Carter: becoming the first rugby nation to win back-to-back World Cups.
      • FOR USE ON CNN PHOTO BLOG ONLY

        Three days with 'The Greatest'

        Photographer Danny Lyon spent three days with Muhammad Ali in 1972 and shares his best photos and memories of the champ.
      • SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23:  Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada celebrates after scoring his team's second goal in the second period during the Men's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match against Sweden on Day 16 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

        Can ice hockey go global?

        With a growing audience boosted by the drama of ice hockey on show in Sochi at the Winter Olympics, can the sport capitalize on its popularity?
      • The first cover star of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, Babette March

        Swimsuit legacy: First cover model

        Her paintings may sell for thousands of dollars, but she is best known for a modeling shot 50 years ago that helped launch a business empire.