Ice skating: Skjellerup's coming out 'all positive'

Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup competes during the short track speed skating championships in Dunedin yesterday. The championships conclude today. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup competes during the short track speed skating championships in Dunedin yesterday. The championships conclude today. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Announcing you are gay can be challenging enough, let alone when you are part of the testosterone-driven world of professional sports.

But for Olympic short track speed skater Blake Skjellerup, the decision to come out has been a positive experience.

The 25-year-old is in Dunedin to compete at the national championships and told the Otago Daily Times he hoped his story would help other gay men and women have the courage to be themselves.

"Growing up it [coming out] was something I always thought I would want to do," Skjellerup explained.

"Just to share my story with other people. And since I've come out I've had a lot of encouraging support from other gay athletes and other members of the community.

"It has been all positive. I haven't had any negative response from anybody."

Skjellerup took to the ice when he was 10 years old and has not looked back. It has been his passion ever since. But when he looked around for gay sporting role models "there just weren't any".

"As a young kid there weren't many people to relate to. There are a lot of stereotypes that I can't relate to being gay. I don't relate to them and they don't relate to me.

"The first person I found that I could relate to was Matthew Mitcham."

Mitcham, who is openly gay, won an Olympic gold medal for Australia in the 10m platform diving at Beijing in 2008.

"It was encouraging for me to see him succeed and encouraging for me to know that it is OK, and that you are not any different from anybody else in sport or in life."

Skjellerup, whose best result at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February was 16th in the 1000m, delayed making his announcement until after the Olympics, but not out of fear - he simply did not want the distraction.

"I understood that, if I was to come out, it maybe turned into a story and I didn't really want that to affect my performance."

Competing at the Olympics was the realisation of a life-long dream. He took a well-earned break to reassess his goals at the conclusion of the Games. He is based in Canada and returned to Christchurch to spend some time with family and recharge.

The break did not dampen his enthusiasm for the sport and he hopes to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

His main rival for a spot in that squad could be the same man who he jostled with for a spot at the Vancouver Games - Mark Jackson. The pair compete on the world circuit but have rarely raced against each other, Skjellerup said.

After the disappointment of missing out on an Olympic berth, Skjellerup accepted Jackson was probably out to make a point during the finals today.

"I think I might have a small target on my head. But I'm just going to go out there to give my best. I've had an hour and a-half practice on it [the surface at the Dunedin Ice Stadium]. If I'd had a little more time I might be able to get a better feel for the ice and adjust my equipment to it. But I'm just going with the flow and see how I'll go."