Ari-Pekka Liukkonen is entering the Tokyo Summer Olympics on a roll.
In May, the openly gay Finnish swimmer won the 50-meter freestyle at the European championships, less than three months before he is set to swim the same race, along with the 100-meter freestyle, in Tokyo.
This week, he was selected as one of the two Finnish flag bearers for Friday’s Opening Ceremony.
“The role of the flag bearer is a task that is offered to only a few,” Liukkonen said. “It is an honor to continue the more than 100-year-old tradition and carry our flag now that the opening can finally be celebrated after an exceptionally long wait.”
These will be Liukkonen’s third Olympics following 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio. But it was just before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, (where they obviously don’t have swimming) where the 6-10 Finn made his biggest splash, when he came out as gay.
The impetus for Liukkonen coming out was the passing of anti-LGBTQ laws in Russia on the eve of the Sochi Games.
“I wanted to join the discussion in relation to Sochi, since it is a sad fact that the Russian gay law affects negatively Russian young people’s lives and infringes human rights in general, he told the Finnish National TV Channel YLE’s “Sports Weekend” show at the time.
A year later, he was named Finland’s sports role model of the year and has continued being an advocate for LGBTQ people in sports. Earlier this month he wore a Pride swim cap made by Arena with the message, “Sport belongs to everyone and it is a pleasure to work with companies that share the same values!”
Liukkonen has swam the sixth-fastest time in the 50 meters in the world this year and that’s the strongest of his two events. American Caleb Dressel is the consensus gold medal favorite, but Liukkonen has a definite medal chance.