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Finnish Olympian comes out: "Finally I can be myself"

Finnish Olympic swimmer Ari-Pekka Liukkonen has spoken about his homosexuality in an interview with Yle. He said he wanted to talk publicly about his sexuality close to the Sochi Olympic games, because of Russia’s controversial anti-gay legislation.

Ari-Pekka Liukkonen
Ari-Pekka Liukkonen Image: Jarno Ranta / Yle

Liukkonen has considered coming out for a long time, but decided to make his move now to highlight the issue ahead of Russia’s hosting of the winter Olympics in Sochi.

"I wanted to start a broader discussion in connection with Sochi, because it’s sad that the legislation in Russia restricts the human rights of young people and others," Liukkonen told Yle.

Liukkonen added that the Finnish sporting world was also in need of a more open attitude to sexuality.

"In the future I would hope that elite athletes and other people will not find homosexuality to be any kind of news," said Liukkonen.

Liukkonen has suffered from mycoplasma for the past two years, but before that competed at the 2012 Olympics in London and took a bronze medal in the 4x50m mixed freestyle relay at the European Championships in the same year.

He is the first gay Finnish athlete to come out of the closet during his active career. His difficulty coming to terms with his sexuality during adolescence is another major motivation for going public now.

"As the matter wasn’t discussed, I tried to forget about it, but during high school I began to accept that I am made this way," said Liukkonen. "Acceptance hasn’t necessarily been easy, but it hasn’t been horribly difficult either. This has been a long, slow process for me, but now I’m there."

Liukkonen first told his sister that he was gay some two years ago. Then he called his parents about a month ago, and received a positive reaction.

"My family has received the news positively, and everyone has supported me," said Liukkonen. "Actually they had already sensed that I am like this."

Liukkonen’s training partners in Jyväskylä have also received the news positively, and encouraged him to discuss the matter on Yle’s weekend sports show, Urheiluviikonloppu.

"I hope that in Finland we can get to the stage where we don’t need to talk about this anymore as soon as possible," said Liukkonen. "Homosexuality is the same kind of characteristic as whether a person has blue or brown eyes, or whether they are left- or right-handed."

"It’s a really great feeling that I can finally be myself," added Liukkonen.

Liukkonen is now targeting the Rio Olympic games in two years, when he is aiming for a gold medal in the 50 metre freestyle.

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