British Olympic champion Callum Skinner is hitting the brakes on his elite track cycling career to focus on making sports a more inclusive place for LGBTQ athletes and their families.
Skinner, who was part of the track team that took home the gold medal at Rio in 2016, had not competed since the Commonwealth Games in Australia last year. He’s been on an extended break from racing due to health issues, according to Cyclist, and announced his retirement Thursday on his website.
“Today, I would like to announce I am calling time on my Elite Cycling career. It’s been a long and amazing journey, starting out in the cold of Meadowbank, Edinburgh in 2006 to peaking at the Olympic Velodrome in the Team Sprint at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016. Cycling has been very good to me, I’ve made lifelong friends and realised my dream for which I am eternally privileged. I appreciate that 26 might seem to many quite young to be transitioning away from the track, but I have never considered myself just an athlete; I consider myself far more than that.”
Skinner is indeed more, as Skysports reported in November 2017: he is the proud son of an out gay man, who felt it best to hide his orientation and his marriage to another man from the world to protect his son.
In an episode of a 2017 docuseries for Skysports, Skinner revealed he first learned his father was gay two decades ago at the age of six.
“Apparently we were in the car,” he said, “I asked dad, ‘Are you gay?’ And he said ‘Yes.’ And then I asked him what was for dinner or something like that. It was really insignificant. We just moved on, and dad was still dad.”
But it wasn’t until 2016 that he decided to speak publicly about his family background. He and his brother proudly posed with their dad and stepdad for the first time for news reports that year.
Skinner said that a conversation with his father, Scott, prior to the Rio Games made him feel more open about sharing that information.
“The BOA [British Olympic Association] have a support network for families,” Skinner said in an interview for the fifth episode of Skysports’ My Icon series. “It’s in case the media suddenly jumps on your family so that they have some help; if your mum or dad are getting tons of phone calls from everywhere and it all gets a bit manic.
”It was only around about the Games when my dad was signing up to the scheme with the BOA, that he said to me, ‘you know, I don’t mind hiding the gay thing’.
”It was at that point that my heart sunk. And then I thought, ‘I’ve truly been hiding this’. So I decided that win, lose or draw, after the Games, this is something that I’m going to be more open about, because my dad shouldn’t have to hide who he is.”
Skinner, who is Scottish, outlined his goal to become a better ally in his letter to his website: “As some of you will know, I’m particularly passionate about giving back to sport, using my profile for good, whether that’s in supporting the long overdue reform of sports governance, LGBT rights and encouraging people to get on their bikes,” he wrote. “My focus and effort now lies in working in partnership with British Cycling to continue to make the athlete experience more human whilst still maintaining that performance mindset.”