BELLE Brockhoff may have a reputation as one of the world’s best snowboarders, but it’s as Australia’s only openly-gay athlete for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics that she is being recognised for her courage and honesty as she prepares to hit the slopes in search of gold next month.
Due to commence on February 7, this year’s Winter Olympics looks set to be the most politically-charged since the 1980 and 1984 Olympics in Moscow and Los Angeles respectively, which saw the USA and former USSR and some of their allies boycotting the events held in the other’s nation in a tick-for-tack fashion after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
A nationwide law enacted by Russian parliament last year banning so-called “gay propaganda” has been criticised around the world as homophobic and has led to notable world leaders announcing they would not be attending the games.
However, at just 20 years of age, Brockhoff (pictured above) told the Star Observer that she felt compelled to compete and show Russian President Vladimir Putin how successful gay athletes could be despite the concerns of her family and friends.
“I don’t believe in boycotting, there are definitely other ways of supporting the LGBT community,” she said.
“The Olympics is about the athletes and the sport. If athletes don’t boycott, it will show that they aren’t affected by these laws.
“Of course my family and close friends are worried about my safety but I have told them I will be safe and I know I will be.”
Terrorist bombings in the city of Volgograd in late December have caused additional security concerns, with the Russian government rushing a law allowing for the collection and storage of all telecommunications by visiting athletes, journalists and tourists during the Sochi Olympics.
But instead of boycotting, Brockhoff has partnered with the USA-based Athlete Ally program, alongside openly- gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup and tennis legend Martina Navratilova, and she is now one of its Pro Allies tasked with speaking openly about homophobia.
“[Athlete Ally] want to help end transphobia and homophobia in sport,” she said.
“I’m really happy and thankful to be a part of this organisation… I’d love to be an ambassador for equal rights in Australia.”
With her uncle Peter Brockhoff having represented Australia at alpine skiing at the 1960 and 1964 Winter Olympics and her grandfather Harold Brockhoff considered a pioneer of Mt Buller, Brockhoff – who has been snowboarding since she was 10 and is ranked in the world’s top 10 – will bring her genetic talents to the boardercross snowboarding competition at Sochi.
“In boardercross we have the top 24 women race down in heats of six,” Brockhoff explained.
“So six girls line up and we race each other down a course that consists of jumps, turns, rollers and other obstacles to the finish line. The first three girls to cross the line get to advance to the next round and so on.
“If you have watched BMX racing, it is very similar to that but on snow.”
Photo: Ryan Pierse (Getty Images)