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"Passing The Torch" Post 36 of 40

01 Sep 2022 10:31 | Douglas Litwin (Administrator)

Gay Games I: Swimming and Shades of Pink Flamingo

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 36 of 40 - 1 September - Gay Games I: Swimming and Shades of Pink Flamingo

“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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CHARLIE CARSON: Jeff to pool to work out before tonight’s diving prelims and finals. Meet Ron and J.P. for brunch at Patio on Castro. Shop at card store, then All-American Boy, and Ron and I get a Gay Olympic Games silkscreen poster of a torch at an art store on Market. Ron finished third in last night’s 50 Free and would like to medal in tonight’s 100 – he’s seeded ahead of me and just behind Richard Hunter. Back to respective places to nap. Don’t feel quite as strong as yesterday but don’t worry about it. Meet at the Castro MUNI – J.P. is there and has just gotten a ticket by a plainclothesman for lighting a match. Car is crowded but glad to get a seat and off my feet.

The diving prelims are on when Frank and I arrive. Jeff has no problem qualifying. The stands are packed, and people are outside who can’t get in. After warm-up, the 100 Free is the first event. Once again, I finish 2nd to Richard Hunter all the way from Lane 6! Mark Wussler is third, bumping out Ron. I’m happy with that race but tell myself to relax because I want the 100 Fly. There’s really no time to think because the 100 Free awards come first. But then, I win it! Felt OK but wasn’t sure where I was at the end. I could see Edmonton’s Ross Armstrong take it out, but I just kept at a pace I was comfortable with and – I out-touched him by .06 seconds. Crowd is crazy over this race. Whew! Exhausted and happy on the awards stand. Seattle’s Dana Cox wins the 50 Breaststroke, denying Richard Hunter a gold medal sweep, because all of Richard’s relays have won gold as well. Finish third in the 100 I.M., and now I have a full set of medal colors. Happy, lucky guy. The crowd cheers for everyone, with some of the loudest applause for the last place finishers.

Gay Games I diving action

Diving Finals – Lynn Johnston dives very well and gets loud applause. Jeff and Dick Ferris have a tight competition with Ferris just enough better. Jeff is constantly smiling and popular with crowd, getting a big ovation for his silver. Rick Bohner is also diving and gets second in the Under 25 division. Jeff gives Lynn her bouquet during awards.  I decide to wear Blake’s medal around to keep mine in good shape - ha. Earlier in the meet Mark, Karen, and another woman and I hatched the idea of cross-dressing in the final event, the 200 yd. Mixed Freestyle Relay – Mark and I in women’s suits and the gals topless. But we finally decide the media would seize on that instead of the message we are trying to get out about taking sports seriously, so we nix it. Do an exhibition 100 Medley Relay with Andy, Mark and Pat and it’s fun to get back in the water one last time for a quick 25. L.A. guys sweep relay medals (Ron does earn another medal here), and everyone poses for pictures around the deck – we don’t want it to end! Never had and never will again go through an experience like it.

Charlie Carson with Ron  Kirchoff at the inspiration of the Pink Flamingo

Charlie Carson with his "chariot dogs" having fun at the Oasks

Church Street Station for dinner. Sit with Dennis, friend of Richard Hunter’s, and Jeff and I have a good time laughing with L.A.; we all head to The OASIS after for drinks.  Bartender says we can’t go in the pool – drat. Well, ham that I am, I have the women’s suit I possibly was going to wear earlier and go ahead and dress up so there’s something else going on besides our standing around drinking. Several of the swimmers are in on it, and while giggling ahead of time we hook up a bunch of medal ribbons as leashes and I drive Ron and Harry Starcevic as chariot dogs around the pool. People call out, “Esther!” – as in Williams. Do a bit on a deck chair I call Sea Animals of the World. The manager comes over and says I can go in! Crowd hoots as I do a starfish, alligator, the shark from Jaws, Susan Backlinie in Jaws (poor girl), and Flipper. A Sister of Perpetual Indulgence tries posing around the deck and gets frustrated being upstaged.

Get back into boy drag and we take a group picture. No one is in the mood to stop at 2 a.m. closing, but nothing is open except the Ritch Street spa. At this point we’re all friends so it’s all very chaste. Some with boyfriends won’t even get into towels. Jacuzzi with Mauro and Steve. Bobby Goldsmith wears all his medals into the hot tub and we’re tickled. Do some weight machines and – well, they sell carrot cake at the spa so we eat carrot cake. John, coach of Berkeley, drives me and Jeff home at 4:45am. A BLAST.

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Team L.A. swimmers sweeping the 4 x 100 Individual Medley relay

Team L.A. swimmers Bill Swann, Jeff Shotwell, Richard Hunter and Steve Smetzer

SHAMEY CRAMER: The highlight of the Aquatics tournament for our Team LA swimmers was their l-2-3 sweep in the Men's 4X100 Individual medley relay. Due to regulations, we had to list our swimmers from different municipalities. Team Los Angeles had swimmers representing Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica (this was two years before West Hollywood became an incorporated city). Fortunately, that moment in time of the twelve of them on the podium with Coach Michael Roth was captured and appeared on the cover of many LGBT papers.

The iconic photo of Richard Hunter in the pool and on the book cover

But the moment that epitomized what those first Gay Games were all about belonged to Richard Hunter. There is an iconic shot of him leaping out of the pool, both fists pumped in the air, that killer smile of his opened as wide as can be, the look of pure joy and happiness spread across his ebullient face.

That photo became the cover of the brochure for Gay Games II. It, more than any other photo, captured the essence of what each and every Gay Games pioneer felt being part of that revolutionary event: we were free, we were strong and no one was going to rain on our parade; not the USOC nor those who had just named a strange new virus Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID, as it was first known) because it predominately affected gay men.

Besides being the poster boy for Gay Games II, Richard was featured in many magazines and caused a stir with Dr. Waddell and others when he appeared in an ad for HIM Vitamins wearing his Gay Games medals.

It was obvious from those first Gay Games that the West Hollywood aquatic athletes were a force to reckon with, in and out of the pool. As the Tournament Director Jill Ramsay wrote in her final report: "LA team especially strong. Shelley Farber got a Bronze in the Women's marathon in the morning, then swam two events in the afternoon - that's incredible. Cooperation from the LA team is overwhelming. They are close to setting statewide records. We're setting a precedent for future games. I think many Gay athletes didn't realize the standards of excellence we would be setting here."

Four weeks later, the LA swimmers founded West Hollywood Swim Club - later known as West Hollywood Aquatics - the first openly gay Masters swim club.

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

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