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Olympian Randy Gardner inspired watching out gay Olympic figure skaters 40 years after his Olympics

The gay Olympic figure skater didn’t feel he could be out in the 1970s or 1980s.

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Figure skater Randy Gardner, with his skating partner Tai Babilonia, won five national titles and competed in the 1976 Olympic Games.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When Randy Gardner competed in the Olympics, being publicly out as a gay athlete just didn’t seem like an option. Despite its sometimes flashy appearance, the sport of figure skating has been a conservative institution with conservative ideals for decades.

Now Gardner, who with partner Tai Babilonia finished fifth in pairs figure skating at the 1976 Winter Olympics and won five national championships, is watching as three openly gay skaters compete in these 2018 Winter Olympics.

He couldn’t be happier for them, sharing these thoughts with Outsports:

When I watch these men compete at this elite level, I honestly forget for a moment that they’re gay. I marvel at their strength, power and speed and get lost in the captivating performances that they deliver. Then, I realize they’re one of us! I’m like a proud papa.

As I’m sure they were coping with being a gay teenager in their youth, I have no doubt that they were feeling different, possibly isolated from others. But deep down they knew they had the emotional strength to pull themselves through it, just like we’ve come to expect from the strength of Olympians. I’m so happy to see them succeed. They have proven that you don’t have to be a straight man or woman to win in sports.

You’ve come a long way, baby!

Gardner recently produced a play about his life, Go Figure! The Randy Gardner Story.