As the book closes on another Summer Games, we’re looking at the stories of LGBT Olympians past and present. Some blazed a trail in both representation and athletic accomplishment, while others had to give up their dreams to live their truth.
German track-and-field star Balian Buschbaum competed in the 2000 Games in Sydney as a female pole vaulter—his personal best 4.70 meters, or about 15.42 feet, was a national record for many years and is still among the country’s top scores.
But in 2007, Buschbaum announced he was retiring from the sport, due to a persistent injury and a desire to begin transitioning.
In his memoir, Blue Eyes Remain Blue Eyes, Buschbaum revealed the name “Balian” was inspired by Orlando Bloom’s character in the film Kingdom of Heaven. Today he is a coach, nutritionist and trainer, and appeared in the German version of Dancing with the Stars in 2013.
“Personality development is the main focus of my work,” he explains. “[I teach people] to be more assertive…in professional or private development.”
It wasn’t until this year that the International Olympic Committee updated its guidelines to allow trans athletes to compete as their authentic selves.
Previously, athletes who transitioned were required to have surgery, followed by at least two years of hormone therapy.
The new protocol allows trans men to compete “without restrictions.” (Trans women can compete without undergoing gender confirmation surgery, so long as they have been on hormone therapy for one year.)
“I don’t think many federations have rules on defining eligibility of transgender individuals,” IOC medical director Dr Richard Budgett said. “This should give them the confidence and stimulus to put these rules in place.”
The change opens the door for top athletes like Buschbaum to continue their Olympic dreams without forestalling transitioning. But the IOC guidelines are only that—guidelines. It still falls to individual sports to adopt trans-inclusive regulations.
“It is necessary to ensure as much as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition,” the IOC said in statement earlier this year. “The overriding sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition.