Out Swimmer Michael Gunning's Olympic Dreams Dashed

Tuesday July 13, 2021
Originally published on July 7, 2021

On Friday night, Michael Gunning received the news that he will not be competing in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo later this month. "Some dreams are simply not meant to come true... and the words I've been struggling to say out loud are... 'I have not made the Olympic Team this Summer,'" he wrote in an emotional blog post

"With a lifetime of work put into one moment, it's hard to digest the emotional struggle in both reflecting on my career's proudest achievements, and the harsh realities of elite sport. It's taken me all weekend to properly come to terms with the news, but there will never be a right time to express how I'm truly feeling at this moment in time."

Gunning, a British native who represents Jamaica (his father's homeland) as a competitive swimmer, began training for the 2020 Olympics in 2016. When the pandemic delayed the Games, he aimed for 2021. But on Friday he learned that though he had qualified last summer for a "B" consideration to compete for the Jamaican team, "but unfortunately FINA have made the harsh decision to only allocate Jamaica one 'Universality Place' for the Games."

He added how difficult the past year has been from complications with the pandemic and bureaucratic issues with both Jamaica and Great Britain. "Together, this combination forced (him) to reside as an 'elite' swimmer training solo with no coach for 28 weeks during the UK lockdown, and I was further denied access to multiple FINA qualifying competitions (inside and outside the UK) due to government laws and 'terms and conditions' of international athletes. All elite athletes stereotypically show attributes of resilience and mental strength, but combined with the unpredictability and uncertainty of my Olympic pursuit, and the loneliness of my journey in the past year, it has been incomprehensibly tough, and I can say that I done everything in my power to earn my Olympic spot this Summer."

He concluded his statement with: "I'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported me on my Tokyo Olympic journey. My fight for diversity, equality and inclusion in sport will always be at the forefront of what I do, and my journey is far from over! I would have loved to create history this summer and be the first openly gay Caribbean swimmer at the Olympics, but instead, I will be watching the Olympics and my friends, teammates and training partners in awe, as they do us all proud. For me, I'll be taking the next few weeks to recuperate my next steps and make a plan moving forward, but until then..."

Last summer, Swimming World Magazine wrote Gunning "represented Jamaica at the World Championships, finishing 36th in the 200 butterfly and 43rd in the 200 freestyle. He placed similarly at 2019 Worlds (39th and 42nd, respectively) and made a pair of Pan Am Games B finals in 2019. He ended up 10th in the 200 free and 12th in the 200 fly."

Gunning also worked out his sexual issues in a public way. He appeared on the reality show "The Bi Life" in 2018 as a contestant who never had time to date prior to traveling to Barcelona to appear on the show, though acknowledged a sexual attraction to men. "After going on a few dates, he realised he was in fact gay," reported Pink News. His publicly coming out was sparked by a personal experience: he was one of the 14,000 Ariana Grande fans present when an explosive went off at a 2017 concert in Manchester, England.

"By that point in his life, Gunning more or less understood his sexuality, if he wasn't publicly out," wrote Swimming World. "Whether or not the brush with death offered any urgency to disclosing his sexuality, it certainly had an impact on his outlook on life."

"I think it made me realize we only have one life and you've got to go for it," Gunning said. "Don't turn down opportunities when they come your way, and swimming for Jamaica just was the right thing at the time."

But does his sexuality make competing for Jamaica, which Time Magazine once described as the "most homophobic place on Earth," difficult?

"The world is turning slowly and I think it is changing, and I'm sure in time, Jamaica will accept LGBT+ people and legislation will change, but it's a slow process and I think the more role models we have, the better," said Gunning, Pink News reports.