Graeme Obree reveals that he’s gay
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Monday, January 31, 2011

Graeme Obree reveals that he’s gay

by Shane Stokes at 4:50 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Former world hour record holder comes out, says denials led to mental problems

Graeme ObreeFormer world hour record holder and double world pursuit champion Graeme Obree has revealed that he is gay, saying that years of suppressing his feelings led him to mental problems and suicide attempts.

“I was brought up thinking you'd be better dead than gay. I must have known I was gay and it was so unacceptable,” he told the Scottish Sun newspaper. “I was brought up by a war generation - they grew up when gay people were put in jail. Being homosexual was so unthinkable that you just wouldn't be gay. I'd no inkling about anything, I just closed down.

"People say, 'How can you be gay and be married and have kids and not know it?’ But when I went to my psychologist she reckoned I had the emotional age of about 13 because I'd just closed down."

Obree is the first major cycling champion to come out. The statement will hopefully enable him to find greater stability after many tormented years. He was diagnosed as bipolar several years ago, and has been hospitalised seven times. He also tried to kill himself twice, taking 100 pills in 1998 and then trying to hang himself three years later. The Scot later documented his problems in his biography The Flying Scotsman, which was released as a bio-pic in 2006.

Obree gained fame throughout the sport when he beat Francesco Moser’s long-standing world hour record on July 17th 1993. Despite having failed in his attempt the day before, Obree tried again less than 24 hours later, riding 51.596 kilometres to beat Moser's record of 51.151 kilometres by 445 metres.

This mark was beaten by English rider Chris Boardman on July 23rd. He clocked a distance of 52.270 kilometres.

Obree had set his record using a highly unusual position, riding a bike called Old Faithful constructed out of spare parts and with his elbows tucked under his chest in order to be more aerodynamic. The UCI banned this position, but he rethought the issue and pioneered the so-called ‘Superman’ position, where his arms were fully extended in front of him.

This proved to be even faster and he took the record again on 19 April 1994, riding 52.713 kilometres on the Bordeaux velodrome. This mark stood for several months but was surpassed on 2 September 1994 by the Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain.

Obree also took individual pursuit world championship titles in 1993 and 1995. He secured a pro contract to race with the Le Groupement team in 1996 but didn’t turn up at a team appointment and was fired. He said afterwards that he was disillusioned as he had realised he would have to take doping products as part of the team. He made clear his opposition to performance enhancing drugs and said he didn’t want to race professionally as a result. This led to criticism by the then-UCI President Hein Verbruggen, who said "I find it cowardly, there is no other word."

Verbruggen long denied the existence of doping in cycling and was also critical of others who spoke out, such as Giles Delion. They were proven to be correct when the Festina Affair broke in 1998 at the Tour de France.

Obree said his mental issues were due in part to a "homophobic upbringing" in Newmilns, Ayrshire. He admitted his sexuality to a psychologist in 2005, then inflicted injuries upon himself as he tried to come to terms with the realisation.

“To me the thought of being gay wasn't acceptable,” he said. “I thought I was a terrible person. I had to admit 'Oh my goodness, this is me. It was so bad because I was the biggest homophobe on the planet, because it was so ingrained in me.”

Afterwards, he had to tell his wife Anne and children, and later got divorced. Today’s news is the first time he has publicly spoken about his sexuality. For someone who has been in turmoil for so long, many will hope that this marks a turning point and that he can be more at peace with himself from this point on.


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