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Countdown to Cologne

Twenty-seven gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight Utah athletes are registered to attend Gay Games VIII in Cologne, Germany. From July 31–Aug. 7 they will represent Utah in swimming, water polo, cycling, bowling, women’s fast-pitch softball and basketball.

Currently, Gay Games VIII has over 9,000 registrants from 70 countries participating in 35 sports and five cultural events. Although the number of registrants is down from previous years, officials are expecting large numbers to attend who have not registered yet. Amsterdam’s 1998 games had the largest number of registrants at 13,000.

The Federation of Gay Games is an international non-profit organization that presents the games every four years. Sports are open to athletes of all skill levels and the Games encourage anyone to train, participate and enjoy the events and the cultural gathering.  Participants are encouraged to do their personal best, meet other athletes of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and learn about a different part of the world and its culture, while experiencing the host city and country.

Although Utah is one of the least populated states, it has traditionally sent large contingents in the past — over 150 attended Gay Games VII in Chicago in 2006. The next Gay Games is planned for Cleveland, Ohio in 2014, and is expected to attract larger numbers from around the world.

Locally, Team Utah has been raising funds to help athletes pay for registration, airfare, lodging and transportation for their equipment. As part of this, the team will host an official ‘Send-off Party’ on July 25 at Club JAM. To help raise money, club bartenders will wash cars from 4–6 p.m. and athletes will be selling Team Utah/Cologne T-shirts at a barbecue following after. JAM, Studio 27, Janica Nicole Salon & Spa, Salt Lake City Gay Athletic Association, The Utah Pride Center, Au Naturale, the Queer Utah Aquatic Club, Winder Farms and QSaltLake have all helped the team’s fundraising efforts.

Utah Athlete Roll Call

QUAC Water Polo

Usually, the QUAC water polo team would be attending the International Gay and Lesbian Association’s yearly tournament at this time of year. But IGLA doesn’t throw the tournament during the Gay Games. So, fourteen QUAC members are registered to participate in Cologne’s water polo tournament. There are two divisions, the Trophy and the Cup. The Trophy division is considered the competitive division while the Cup, though still competitive, is considered a more recreational division.

QUAC will compete in the Trophy division against rival teams West Hollywood, (Gay Games VII gold medalist), Amsterdam A, Toronto A, Atlanta, Melbourne, San Francisco and Sydney. QUAC’s first match is scheduled for the morning of Aug. 2 against Amsterdam A. They will also get the last match of the day against West Hollywood. QUAC and West Hollywood both made it to the finals at the 2006 Games in Chicago.

“We have a very good mix of experienced and new QUAC players going to Cologne,” said Coach Pat Hayes. “The majority of the team has been with us for several years including our goalie Jason Olafson, Tom Taylor, Wes Heaps and Trina Pendleton.”

“The new players that will make a definite impact for us are Todd Bradley, Tyler Poole and Brent Weldon,” he continued. “They are three of our youngest but also most experienced players. Tyler and Brent both play on the University of Utah club water polo team and Todd just finished four years on the U of U varsity swim team. All three played high school water polo in Utah.”

QUAC co-founder Doug Fadel also asked Hayes and Andrew Hunt to start a water polo team to compliment its swim team. Hayes recruited from QUAC swimmers and took a water polo team to the 2006 IGLA tournament in Ft. Lauderdale. Hayes played water polo throughout high school and went to the U of U where he became an All American swimmer, where he still holds the 200 freestyle record. QUAC won the 2007 IGLA water polo tournament and placed 2nd in 2008. QUAC didn’t send a water polo team to IGLA in 2009.

For Gay Games VIII, Hayes will be in the water, while assistant coach Tom Taylor will be doing most of the coaching.

“I will be a primary offensive and defensive center forward as well as a driver, kind of like a forward in basketball,” said Hayes. “I will play more than Tom, so he will do most of the coaching on the deck but I am still considered the head coach and team captain.”

Hayes says that Taylor’s help is invaluable as his knowledge of the game will not be surpassed in the tournament. Taylor will also play in Cologne and is considered an expert goalie.

“While winning is important in a competitive situation like this, the most important thing is to enjoy the Gay Games experience and represent QUAC well,” said Hayes, who is straight. “I get a lot more out of my participation with QUAC than I could ever give. The love and the friendship I receive is very humbling.”

Colin O’Connor will also help coach. A 25-year-old bisexual, he said that he was excited to join the water polo team when it started up. This will be O’Connor’s second Gay Games playing the sport.

“I am really looking forward to traveling to another country and meeting lots of new people and doing lots of sightseeing,” he said. “I am also looking forward to reclaiming the gold medal from West Hollywood.”

Also playing on the competitive team is Wes Heaps, QUAC board member, water polo liaison, and the point person for all QUAC athletes on Team Utah. Heaps played on QUAC’s B team in Chicago in 2006.

“I usually play the top left-side or deep right-side,” he said. “The defense normally drops off the top left driver since it’s considered the weakest shot to take in water polo. However, I’ve got a pretty decent shot from both positions, so I hope to surprise a few goalies with it.”

QUAC decided to get new team suits for the Gay Games, complete with a rubber ducky design. “It’s new this year in honor of Gay Games and if people like them, we might continue to use them for tournaments going forward,” Heaps added.

QUAC’s water polo team will include women. “There are no rules on gender. The Germany tournament is open division,” explained Trina Pendleton, water polo team member, swim coach, and QUAC Board Member, who also plays on the club’s women’s water polo team. “I am playing the summer league in Kearns this year. It’s a women’s team. When I play against men I really have to rely on my speed, but against girls I can wrestle for positions more.”

Although this will be Pendleton’s second Gay Games, she recently competed on Team USA at the 2009 IGLA water polo tournament. The team was made up of women from all over the U.S. who wanted to play water polo but didn’t have team.

“There are three of us girls going [for QUAC],” said Pendleton. “I am looking most forward to seeing my friends on other teams. We have all been Facebooking and the excitement is mounting.”

QUAC’s water polo team is guaranteed five games during the tournament at the Gay Games, with the best teams competing for medals near the end of the week.

QUAC Swimming

Only one QUAC swimmer will attend this year’s Gay Games: Val Mansfield, who has been a part of the club since 1996.

“My age used to be closely guarded secret, but since I took up swimming it’s plastered all over heat sheets and meet results,” said Mansfield, 53. “It’s even worse at the meets as they show your age at the end of the year, which would be 54. I don’t really have any [swimming] history before I joined QUAC at age 40.”

Mansfield, who is gay and partnered, has competed with QUAC at IGLA and attended the Chicago Gay Games. “I tried something different there, an 800 meter, and I didn’t die,” said Mansfield. “My standard events are 50 and 100 meter freestyle and 50 and 100 meter backstroke. I guess if I have a specialty stroke, it would have to be backstroke, but maybe that’s because my breaststroke and butterfly just suck.”

Though Mansfield didn’t medal in Chicago, he netted a third place recognition at Ft. Lauderdale’s IGLA in 2006 as a part of relay team whose members’ combined ages reached over 200. He almost placed fourth in his age bracket at the 2007 Paris IGLA, but was disqualified because of a bad flip turn. He did his personal best at the 800 meter in Chicago Games.

“I’m no medal hog like that Margaret Douglass from the last issue [of _QSaltLake_],” he said. “I was an exchange student in Germany about 100 years ago (OK, it was 36), and I haven’t been back since. So seeing Germany again was part of the appeal and I have been spending a lot of time brushing up my German. I guess air fares or the economy dampened everyone else’s enthusiasm.”

Women’s Fast-Pitch Softball

Two local fast-pitch aficionados will be attending the Cologne Gay Games: Nancy Joyce, 47, and her partner, who would like to remain anonymous. They will join a Paris team at the games.

“I lived in Berlin for 14 years and returned to SLC in 2006 after falling in love with my current spouse,” said Joyce, who was married in pre-Prop 8 California. “I know the BK Paris softball team because my softball team in Berlin, the Wilde Saeue, traveled to Paris one spring and played a few games with them.”

Joyce grew up playing baseball/softball with her older brother and the neighborhood kids, but she wasn’t allowed to play Little League because of her sex. In graduate school she played with a lesbian slow-pitch softball team. After moving to Berlin, she played with another lesbian fast-pitch softball team that had been started by an American woman.

“I posted on [Facebook] that I was having a bad day at work, and a former Berlin softball teammate who now lives in Paris immediately posted an invitation to play on the BK Paris softball team at the Gay Games. How could I refuse?” said Joyce. “I will be playing with several former teammates from Berlin. I believe the team consists of four women from Paris, three women from Berlin, me and my partner from SLC, a woman from Toronto, and a woman from Australia.”

Because of the combination of teammates from all over the world, the team has taken the moniker, BK Paris International. Joyce and her partner will be traveling to Paris a week before the games to practice. Until then, the two have practicing grounders and fly balls, and also training in Wing Chun Kung Fu at Red Lotus School of Movement.

Fast-pitch softball is a much more intense and faster-paced softball game with nearly identical rules to those of a baseball game, including allowing runners to lead off the base and steal bases.

“I play softball for fun,” said Joyce. “Softball is a very social game for me — a great way to meet new people.”

Team Harwood

Mark Barr will be part of the gay basketball team representing Utah in Cologne. Barr, who plays flag football and is the founder and current leader of the Salt Lake Gay Athletic Association, will be joining two new additional teammates: Sam Foster from Orange County, Calif., who played with the team in the Chicago Gay Games (where they took the silver medal), and Steve Ratkay, from Chicago, who has never played with the team before.

Team Hardwood will have nine team members and will also be competing in the new 35 and older division with five other teams for the Gold. Captain Stewart Ralphs said the division will allow the team to bring home a gold this time.

Bowling

John Bennett, 48, and Larry Lee, 52, will represent Utah in the Men’s doubles in the League competitive division and will also compete individually in the League division. While Bennett has participated in four Gay Games, competing in darts and bowling, this will be Lee’s first. Both are members of Good Times Bowling League and their averages here have qualified them to compete internationally at Cologne Gay Games. (See previous story, Issue 157, June 24, 2010.)

Cycling

Utah’s most decorated Gay Games medalist, Margaret Douglass, will compete in two races: the criterium, the enclosed bike track race in the Masters Women 50–54 category, and the road race, where women of all ages and skill levels race together on a marked road through the city and countryside. Douglass has an opportunity to add to her impressive collection of five gold and two silver medals from the New York and Sydney Gay Games. (See previous story, Issue 158, July 8, 2010.)

Team Utah will walk together in the parade of cities and states on July 31 at the game’s opening ceremonies in RheinEnergie Stadium.

For more information, visit www.games-cologne.de.

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