After being the runner-up the previous three years, Timo Cavelius, an openly gay judoka, won his class at the German national judo championships in Stuttgart this weekend.
Cavelius, 26, took the title by defeating two-time German champ Tim Gramkow in the 81 kg (178-pound class). With the win and his success internationally, Cavelius has his sights set on qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, he told Outsports.
What sets Cavelius apart from other male judokas is his being openly gay. Cavelius came out publicly in 2020, but he had been out to family and friends since he was 15 and was fully accepted. “A well-known German tabloid actually wanted to do a big story about my sexuality,” he said in a 2020 interview, “but because I can’t tell a sad or shocking story about my coming out, they dropped the topic.”
His coming out as gay in judo took longer.
“In sport, the topic was taboo for me for a long time,” he told the German online magazine Bento. “Not only because I had repeatedly read horror stories in the media about athletes coming out. In my team we were all pubescent boys who still wanted to prove their masculinity. Judo is also a very physical sport, after all you throw each other around and you’re incredibly close in ground fighting. I was afraid that the others would no longer take me seriously.”
He then had a breakthrough thanks to a therapist.
“I had a kind of pivotal experience when I spoke to our sports psychologist about my sexuality for the first time. Actually, we work with the psychologists to develop rituals and learn techniques for de-stressing in combat. When I told her about my gayness, she didn’t try to push me in any direction, but made it clear that the choice was entirely mine. And it was true: I could decide for myself how to deal with this matter. The fear of coming out came from me, I had overcome it with friends and family.
“My ‘public’ coming out with my teammates was more or less a knee-jerk reaction: I simply made a Facebook post in which I cleared up the rumors. ‘Yes, I’m gay, but that doesn’t change who I am.’
“Of course, I was scared of how my teammates would react. But apart from the classic ‘How are you doing?’ questions, they were all really cool with it.”
Cavelius doesn’t see himself as an activist and let’s his judo performance do the talking, but he has a message for people still in the closet:
“I don’t want to blame other gay boys for their problems, but I still think a lot of people scare themselves about coming out. The moment I took my destiny into my own hands, nothing could happen to me. My credo is very clear: There is no longer any room for homophobia today, not even in professional sport.”
If Cavelius is able to make the Olympics next year, he would be the first openly gay male Olympian in judo that we know of. In Tokyo, the were nine out LGBTQ female judokas.