One of the most beautiful aspects anytime the Olympics roll around is the chance to laser focus on sports that don’t dominate the world of televised sports.
In the case of the Summer Olympics, handball is among the top contenders for the coveted “obscure du jour” spot (badminton is another personal favorite).
Both Men’s and Women’s Handball events are set to get underway when group play begins this weekend, but the female side of competition brings with it a collection of out athletes whose Olympic histories go hand-in-hand with pushing LGBTQ representation in the games.
Top among the trio is France’s Alexandra Lacrabère. One of the most celebrated goalscorers in recent history, Lacrabère enters her third Olympics looking to top the French team’s silver medal finish in 2016. The right back ranked second in individual goals during the 2016 games, netting 46 goals on 74 shots.
But Lacrabère sparked conversation ahead of her first Olympic appearance in 2012 when she nonchalantly came out as lesbian in an interview with now-defunct French handball magazine Hand Action five months ahead of the London games.
Her coming out made her one of the first out lesbians to compete at the Olympics, and she used the moment to fire a shot at the stigma against LGBTQ people.
When asked if her coming out meant she had a new role to play culturally, Lacrabère said, “No, but if talking about it can change attitudes, it is. I think it’s a matter of education … we are not aliens, we are human beings.”
Another offensive star of the 2016 Olympics returning is Sweden’s Nathalie Hagman. A star since debuting for the Swedish national team at the age of 17 — the youngest ever to do so — Hagman was a bright spot on a team that failed to advance past the quarterfinals. Hagman ranked fourth on the individual goalscorers with 38 and joined Lacrabère on the 2016 games’ all-star team.
Amazingly, the team’s top scorer in 2016 was nearly left off the Swedish roster for 2020 after head coach Tomas Axnér removed her during Olympic qualifiers. She was added back to the roster afterward and appears ready to push the team past its recent Olympic disappointments.
“I want to be part of the national team as long as I think it is fun and the motivation is there,” Hagman told Sweden’s TT News Agency. “I’m 30 and still think my body feels pretty good … as long as it feels like I can contribute and get the chance, I will take it.”
Rounding out the group is Brazil national team goalkeeper Babi Arenhart. After raking in a fifth place finish and the eight best save percentage of all goalkeepers in 2016, Arenhart returns to the Olympic stage anchoring a Brazillian squad with medal podium square in its sights.
In between her Olympic appearances, Arenhart spoke about how her role as an Olympic-caliber athlete intersects with the responsibility of being a prominent out LGBTQ figure.
“I never hid. People know me for my personality, for who I am. It wasn’t a matter of coming out but of living life the way I believe I should,” Arenhart told Brazilian sports site Surto Olimpico in 2019. “I think it would be very difficult for me to hide who I really am. No one should hide because of any choice they make in life.”
“Many children and teenagers have asked me about this. And I always try to give them a very natural vision,” Arenhart added. “As an athlete, my duty is to plant values for children. I try to plant the seed of love without looking at gender, skin color or social class.”
This international triplet of out Women’s Handball figures have placed their identities squarely aside their athletic prowess to varying extents as they enter group play on Saturday (Sunday Tokyo local time).
But there is one more wrinkle: Brazil, France and Sweden are all in Group B, meaning all three are going to get very acquainted with one another on the court. Call it Group LGBTQ, if you will.