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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 August 2006, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Athletes contest first 'Outgames'
Alasdair Sandford
BBC News, Montreal

Two medal winners embrace
Lovers and partners competed against each other

The first World Outgames have ended in Montreal, where 12,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes came together for a celebration of sport, culture and human rights.

It was more like a party than a closing ceremony. A team from Germany held up cards spelling out "Merci Montreal". Up on stage, Liza Minelli delighted the athletes with her renditions of Cabaret and New York, New York. As the lights shone around the Olympic Stadium, some danced while others embraced.

Mark Tewksbury, the Outgames' co-president and a swimming gold medallist from the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, was visibly moved as he declared the games closed. "Here we are not second class citizens," he said.

There had been similar scenes the previous Saturday, when some 40,000 spectators greeted the competitors in the same arena for the opening ceremony. The tennis icon Martina Navratilova was given a rapturous reception as she and Mark Tewksbury read out a new human rights declaration in defence of LGBT people.

Three medals hanging outside building
There were outlandish shows of support accross the 'village' district

Montreal has not witnessed an event on this scale since the city hosted the 1976 Olympics almost exactly 30 years ago. At the heart of the "village" district, a kilometre-long stretch of the rue St Catherine has been a continuous street festival. Companies pledged their support in billboard advertisements everywhere. Huge rainbow flags hung from balconies; others were pinned up in restaurant and shop windows. Medal winners were congratulated by passers-by on the metro.

As often happens in amateur competition, the events themselves - which ranged from athletics and powerlifting, to dancesport and bridge - often attracted more participants and their friends than external spectators. But for Mark Tewksbury, it didn't matter that the small rostrum in the entrance hall to the Olympic pool had little of the grandeur of Barcelona 1992.

Inside out

The Canadian also won gold in Montreal - seeing off a challenge from Daniel Veatch, another former Olympian who swam for Team USA at Seoul 1988 - to win the 100 metres backstroke. Tewksbury documented his own painful coming out process in the world of top level sport in his book Inside Out. "The Olympics ask us to be better athletes," he said. "The Outgames ask us to be better people."

Normally in these situations I say 'do you two fancy each other?' and they separate straightaway
English referee

Sprinter André Mitchell from Toronto, where he's trained with former Olympic champion Donovan Bailey, won five gold medals and one silver. The American Lan Tritsch's time of 39.92 seconds for the 100 metres may have been 30 seconds outside the world record - but it was no mean feat for an 81-year-old, and he too won gold in his age group.

On the whole the games ran smoothly, despite the odd hiccup - such as when Dutch athlete Agnes Elling turned up for the women's 100 metres hurdles to find she was the only competitor.

Some competitions pitted lovers and partners against each other. Fabrice from the Paris-Lyon Arc-en-ciel football team found himself marking his boyfriend Sebastien, playing for Belgium's Pink Devils. The French team's 7-0 victory failed to damage their relationship.

During the same match the whistle blew after some pushing and shoving in the penalty area. The English referee took aside the two offending players. "Normally in these situations I say 'do you two fancy each other?' and they separate straightaway," he chided them. "In your case I suppose I'll just have to say 'at least wait till afterwards'."

Mission accomplished

Confusingly for many people, the Outgames are distinct from this year's Gay Games which took place in Chicago last month. These were originally due to be held in Montreal but were moved after a series of disputes between Gay Games officials and the Montreal organising committee.

Opening slogan lit up
The motto of the games was displayed at the closing ceremony
Outgames competitors came from more than a hundred nations, including several developing countries thanks to a special bursary programme. Not all went as planned: a team from Cameroon - a country known for its repression of homosexuals - was refused entry by Canadian immigration.

The motto of the games was "We play for real". For the organisers, they have been about fostering tolerance in sport to enable gay and lesbian athletes to compete openly, free from discrimination and exclusion.

Martina Navratilova said the Outgames were important to "let the heterosexual community know who we are and what we're all about". In Montreal it's certainly a case of "mission accomplished".

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