Out and outspoken lesbian fencer Imke Duplitzer of Germany starts her round of 64 in women's épée July 30, against Maria Martinez of Venezuela. A veteran of five Olympics, 6'1", 36-year-old Duplitzer was high-profile during the Beijing Games in 2008.
Passionately devoted to human-rights issues, she boycotted the Beijing opening ceremonies as a protest to Chinese communism and its actions in Tibet and Darfur. She said she'd probably spend the time reading a book and having a beer.
"I'm in a different position from other young athletes," Imke told the press in Beijing at the time. "This is my fourth Games. I understand athletes want to march in the opening ceremony because it's a life dream. That's okay with me."
Duplitzer was also one of 40 athletes who signed an open letter to Chinese president Hu protesting human-rights violations in Tibet and Darfur. This open letter and others, along with the resignation of Steven Spielberg as artistic director at Beijing, were all part of a huge international activist flurry designed to pressure the People's Republic of China into the respect for human rights officially required from member nations of the Olympics movement. The idea of athletes boycotting the Games was floated. However, China ignored the protests, and the Games rolled forward.
Duplitzer failed to medal in Beijing, though she had scored a team silver in the Athens Games.
In London, she's back for another lunge at gold. Around her, the current human-rights flurry has been aimed at certain countries' treatment of LGBT people and women. British openly gay activist Peter Tatchell has been highly visible in the protests.
Controversy and protest have an old history at the Games, going back to outrage by some when Communist countries began participating after World War II. There were the now-historic black power fists raised on the podium at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, and threats of boycott that boiled up in the 1980s around women's gender testing.
However, it's pretty clear at this point that the idea of athlete boycotts is fading. Retaliation has been swift for a few athletes who stuck their necks out. The black-power demonstrators of 1968 saw their careers destroyed. At the Beijing games, U.S. speed skater Joey Cheek -- a signer of the athletes' open letter -- was made an example when his visa was revoked by the Chinese government. Today, most Olympic athletes are not prepared to sacrifice their sport careers, and the living that they can make from a medal win, for the sake of political ideals.
But Imke Duplitzer hasn't gone silent. This time around, she is aiming her sharp sword-point at the International Olympic Committee. In an interview with the German newspaper Bild, she said that the IOC is "developing their own values and rules that are moving further and further from the Olympic spirit. Who doesn't like watching the flame being lit, or a child carrying a dove through the stadium, with dramatic music, with all those sentimental buttons being pushed? The sport is just a sideshow."
She went on to skewer the IOC's new policy of squelching athletes promoting products during the Games, while allowing the Olympic organizers themselves to enrich themselves with sponsorships.
"It's extremely unfair on the athletes," she said. "But it's not been about the athletes for a long time."
Supportive reactions to her comments popped up on the British Fencing Forum online. "I love her!" said one. "Good to see an athlete being honest and not totally scared of the establishment," said another. A couple of fencers mentioned that London athletes had been told they had to put tape over sponsor's names on their gear. However, Duplitzer's remarks have not gotten wide notice -- they were mostly kept muffled in the German press.
I would sure like to see the gutsy Duplitzer crossing blades with the U.S.'s gold medalist fencer Mariel Zagunis. Both are terrific. Duplitzer has won many prestigious competitions, but never gold at the Olympics. It's great to see the U.S. women finally making their mark in this sport, which was dominated by Europeans for so long. Unfortunately my dream match can't possibly happen, because Zagunis competes in a different division, namely saber.
Find more about Patricia on her Web site. Copyright (c) 2012 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.