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"Passing The Torch" Post 35 of 40

31 Aug 2022 11:23 | Douglas Litwin (Administrator)

Gay Games I: Swimming, Wrestling, and a Special Telegram

Produced and curated by Federation of Gay Games Archivist Doug Litwin and FGG Honourary Life Member Shamey Cramer
with Ankush Gupta, FGG Officer of Communications

Read the entire "Passing The Torch" series as it is posted daily HERE.

Post 35 of 40 - 31 August - Gay Games I: Swimming, Wrestling, and a Special Telegram

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 5 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

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Swim Coach Michael Roth

DR. MICHAEL ROTH: I was very proud of how well our swimmers performed. Not only were we representing Los Angeles, which would be hosting the Olympics two years later, but this was the first time gay people were being recognized for something other than their sexual preference or identity.

After each day’s competition, the team would often head into the Castro District. I remember telling them they were allowed thirty minutes before I made everyone go home and prepare for the next day’s competition.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1982

Halfway through the meet I received a telegram from a very special patient of mine. They read it over the loudspeaker, making sure to announce that the telegram was from none other than Elizabeth Taylor. The place went wild. That was a very special moment for me. For one of the most famous people on the planet to take the time to do such a simple gesture was very endearing. Elizabeth knew how much it meant to me, and how happy it would make me and everyone else feel. That’s the kind of person she was.

Towards the end of the meet, we still needed another woman to fill one of our mixed medley relays. A woman from the stands stepped forward, even though she really wasn’t a swimmer. I told her “just do the doggie paddle if you have to.” When she finished, the entire natatorium gave her a rousing ovation for her efforts. But that’s what the Games were about - everyone feeling welcomed and included.

Of course, this was the time when AIDS began ravaging the community. Many of the swimmers ended up becoming patients of mine, and I ended up losing over 500 friends to the disease. I had so many patients come to me by request. When I asked them why, they simply stated “because we heard you cared.”

Whether it was my work as the coach for the swim team, or working with my patients, more than anything, I tried; I really tried to do my best. But it is still very painful to remember all the loss we experienced.

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Gene Dermody on the Gay Games I wrestling mat

GENE DERMODY: Don Jung’s Golden Gate Wrestling CLUB (GGWC), which was founded explicitly for Gay Games, was thrust into a leadership role as the excited wrestlers demanded more!

CA USA-Wrestling Officers and Officials were present to sanction and run the tournament out of respect for Don. Future CA-USA-Wrestling sanctioning was a major political hurdle now removed, and every Gay Games since has been sanctioned. No other Gay Games sport received official sanctioning in 1982 or 1986.

Gay Games I wrestling action

The welcoming address by Holocaust Survivor Dr. Allen Abraham, a retired wrestling coach and Athletic Director at Columbia University and then UCSF, cut the butterflies and fears of the wrestlers sitting nervously on the mats, and brought them to hugs and tears with these words (paraphrased): “Look around the room. See the future and be proud. By competing here today, you are ‘Changing The World’”.


The interpersonal connections created in 1982 were extraordinary because we were unknown to each other, and yet instantly we’re on the same egalitarian athletic/social page. These dynamic group connections within the sport competitions generated the powerful LGBTQ+ sport governing bodies that would proliferate local LGBTQ+ sports clubs. International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) was by far the most professional, successful, and the Role Model for other LGBTQ+ sports.

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Gay Games I swimmers on the starting blocks

CHARLIE CARSON: Take it easy all day and don’t join the L.A. guys to sightsee.  Shave arms in morning. Meet Steve Smetzer to go to the souvenir store to buy pins and a Gay Olympic Games t-shirt. Rather than destroy inventory, vendors can still sell product if the word “Olympic” is covered at the point of sale (masking tape on the t-shirts; white paint on the pins – of course we remove the tape or scratch off the paint once purchased). Steve and I laugh at a t-shirt with “E.T. – Elizabeth Taylor,” sold!  Back to Dom’s to shave legs and nap two hours. Marcello’s for pizza. MUNI to the pool and don’t do much warmup. Shaved down; you feel like a bullet in the water.

Gay Games I swimming action and fabulous volunteers

Finals start. Chat with Allison and Karen and Scott and Hal, and Pat Prince from Honolulu. And then I win the 100 Backstroke – completely unexpected. And then move up from sixth to finish 2nd in the 50 Free! Hoppin’ all over the place, and wear my E.T. t-shirt on the awards stand. Blake decided not to come back from the Russian River for the 50 Fly that I scratched…um, OK… I didn’t need another final anyway. Do an exhibition relay with Andy, Pat and Mark Wussler of Tucson and we would’ve finished second. Tom Waddell gives medals tonight. Competition chair Jill Ramsey blows soap bubbles around us on the awards stand. The crowd treats us like rock stars, and in reality it doesn’t matter that there are no big names here. With our general equal level of ability, we have some very close races which makes things exciting regardless.

Swimmers out on the town on Castro Street

To the Castro afterwards with Mauro, Frank, Rick and Richard. Richard has won all his races so far and is our little meet’s star. Most of L.A. is at the Sausage Factory. Back to Dominic’s and – well, won’t name which roommate doesn’t come home tonight…

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Read the entire "Passing The Torch" series as it is posted daily HERE.

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