There are times when being an Olympian transcends sport, when it becomes more about the training, the singular focus of competition, the drive to be the best.
Vancouver's Pride Parade on Sunday, Aug. 4 was one of those times.
Whistler's homegrown Olympians, alpine skier Mike Janyk and snowboarder Mercedes Nicoll, took part in the annual parade through the streets of Vancouver, a first for both and also a first for the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), which invited athletes to attend Pride parades across the country this year. But the fact that not all Olympians around the world can share the same freedoms, particularly those in Russia, home of the next Winter Games, wasn't far from the athletes' minds.
"It's very cool to be a part of something bigger than the medals and the competition," said Janyk, the day after the parade.
The experience was even better because he could share it with a friend and fellow Whistlerite.
"It was really fun," Nicoll added, echoing Janyk's sentiments.
"I'm proud to be Canadian and proud to have a parade in our backyard."
Both responded to an email from the COC earlier this summer, asking if any athlete was interested in participating in Pride parades.
That was before the new anti-gay legislation in Russia, host of the 2014 Olympic Games, hit the headlines.
The legislation makes it illegal for Russians to express pro-gay views at the risk of fines or even jail time. The law bans "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations," making events like Vancouver's Pride Parade illegal.
Janyk's reaction to that law was simple: "It's sad.
"We look at what we have here in Canada and we think 'how is this happening in the world?'... It really strengthens how important it is to share with the world the freedoms we have in our country."
Dean Nelson, producer of Whistler's annual gay ski week WinterPride, had praise for the two local athletes, standing up for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights.
"They are demonstrating. They are lobbying. And they are activists," said Nelson.
This recent move from the COC, calling on athlete participation at Pride parades across the country, he added, is a signal to Canadian athletes that the committee is standing by the belief that all athletes should be able to participate in sport regardless of race, religion, creed or sexual orientation.
As for the anti-gay Russian legislation, Nelson called it a "smokescreen" for other issues plaguing the country.
Nelson, who founded the first Pride House in Whistler during the 2010 Winter Games, is part of the International Pride House Coalition, now actively lobbying the International Olympic Committee to co-produce a Pride House in Russia.
"It's still too early to know exactly what's going to happen," said Nelson.
Meanwhile, Nicoll and Janyk are turning their minds to the snow. After a couple of weeks training on the Blackcomb Glacier, Nicoll is now heading to New Zealand for the first of four Olympic qualifying events.
Janyk heads to Argentina on Aug. 25.
Both are focused on gaining a place on Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
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