It’s not every night that an Olympic medallist graces a restaurant in Erskineville Road, but there was Ji Wallace smiling, laughing, shaking hands, looking gorgeous and being the perfect accomplice to a Gay Games fundraising dinner. After national and international successes Ji won silver in trampoline at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. He also won a few hearts on Tuesday evening with several attendees requesting application forms for the job of his personal assistant.
Wallace was visiting Sydney in his newly appointed role as an ambassador for the Gay Games. As the first Australian ambassador, Ji has joined a group of prominent athletes and artists that includes actor Judith Light, Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Bruce Hayes, photographer Tom Bianchi, German cycling champions Petra R?er and Judith Arndt, tennis legend Billie Jean King, rock star Melissa Etheridge, actor/ director Amanda Bearse, powerlifter Chris Morgan and champion figure skater Rudy Galindo.
Ji came out to the wider world in April, although he had been out to family and friends for many years. On Tuesday he was helping Team Sydney prise money from the diners’ pockets, ably assisted by MC for the evening, Miss Dollywood. Together they raised over $600 for the Federation of Gay Games Scholarship Fund by auctioning a jersey signed by the Australian netball team and Ji’s autograph on various pictures. More than $2,000 raised on the night will support Team Sydney’s delegation to the Federation’s annual meeting this year.
Ji warmed up the crowd with stories of his exploits on the trampoline. It hasn’t all been easy, he said. Fooling around with his team-mates once saw him seriously break a finger now crooked and held together with pins and plates. And as if to prove to everybody they were listening to a real athlete he asked if he should perform a standing back somersault. It was a fundraising night so of course Ji’s palm had to be crossed with some currency notes and then, with no warm-up at all, he executed a full back somersault. The usual soft thud of gym shoes against a mat was replaced by a loud slap as his street shoes hit the floor in a perfectly nailed landing. Astonished silence was soon replaced by delighted applause.
As well as renewing his trampoline training program with sights set on Beijing in 2008, Ji is enthusiastic about his support for the Gay Games. I truly appreciate the symbolism of a multi-sport event -“ the opening ceremony, what it means to be there and to compete, he said. The Gay Games can be anyone’s Olympics and anyone’s dream. The opportunity to compete in Chicago next year can be anyone’s life-changing moment.
Wallace said he was a better man for chasing his dreams and members of the LGBT community could experience the same feeling at the Gay Games. Ji said he remembered watching the IOC announcement of the 2000 Olympic host and his excitement hearing that it would be Sydney. I am watching with anticipation who will be crowned the host for the 2010 Gay Games, he said. Candidate cities for 2010 are Cologne, Paris and Johannesburg, and the Federation of Gay Games will make a selection at the FGG’s 2005 annual meeting in November.