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Canadian Olympic luger John Fennell comes out as gay

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John Fennell talks about being gay in Russia for the Olympics and the fear that instilled in him.

Alex Livesey

John Fennell, who represented Canada in luge at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, came out publicly in an article in the Calgary Herald. Fennell is 19 years old and is the son of former Canadian Football League player David Fennell, according to the Herald.

Some familiar themes rise up for Fennell.

First is the consuming nature of being in the closet, which is why we often say that athletes perform better after coming out.

"It's suffocating," Fennell says of life inside the proverbial closet, even in the year 2014. "You have to play this game of, 'who knows?' You can't let off any vibes or secrets. You have to act super macho. You have to be hyper aware of your mannerisms and to not let off any vibes that could get detected. It's very exhausting.

"It's an all-consuming paranoia of who could find out through what means."

He also talks about the fear of being a gay man in Russia during the Olympics. This speaks so loudly to the need to select countries with the most inclusive laws and policies possible.

"I had been training like crap all week - hitting, crashing and flipping," he says. "I was sitting in the start handles and I had almost this suffocating moment. I started hyperventilating, and I couldn't breathe. "I thought to myself, 'how the hell am I brave enough to go down this hill if I can't be brave enough to be who I am?' " He mustered the courage to come out a month later in the country he feared most.

"The thing that scared me the most is our Canadian Olympic Committee debriefing that said any information in Russia is subject to being seen by the government," he says. "So I didn't travel with my phone or my computer when we went there, which was a testament to how nervous I was going in.

"I was a basket case going to Russia."

"Every time another athlete who has reached the top of their game, the barrier for athletes on any level all over the world is broken down," out former Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup told Outsports. "I met with John and Mark Tewksbury before John left for Sochi, and it was sad to see how he felt as a closeted athlete about attending Sochi. John's statement today really resonates the importance and responsibility the Olympic movement has in being a truly diverse and visibly equal movement".

Head over to the Calgary Herald to read Fennell's full coming out story.

You can find Fennell on Twitter @johncanluge. Hat tip to Blake Skjellerup.