Mark Tewksbury is doing exactly what he swore he wouldn’t. After winning Olympic gold in 1992, the then-closeted gay swimmer left his hometown of Calgary and vowed never to return. A few years later, after a stint on the International Olympic Committee’s site-selection team, he very publicly ditched the Olympic movement, disgusted with how IOC favour seemed to be bought rather than earned.
Today, the affable 44-year-old is back in Calgary, where he’s completely at ease with himself, his city and yes, even the Olympics. Not only is Tewksbury involved with the Games again, he’s front and centre as Canada’s chef de mission – the official spokesperson – for London. “I’ve changed and grown up a little bit, become slightly less idealistic, less polarized,” says the triple medallist. “I’m representing the coaches and athletes. I can stand behind them 1,000 percent.” He’s a natural for the job, having built a successful career as a motivational speaker.
The 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver were Tewksbury’s tipping point. He was initially reluctant when asked about the possibility of becoming chef de mission, but then he gave a pep talk to athletes before the Vancouver opening ceremonies. He got swept up as Canada collected 14 golds, more than any other country, and placed third in the overall medal count. Officials with whom he’d had problems were no longer in power, and it seemed like the right time to rejoin.
Embrace contradictions, Tewksbury likes to say. After his winding journey from Olympic hero to pariah and back again, Canada can be grateful he’s done just that.
Mark Tewksbury’s talent for telling it like it is
1998: Loses six-figure corporate public-speaking contract because he is deemed “too gay.” Makes national headlines by revealing his homosexuality.
1999: Blasts the International Olympic Committee for corruption and helps launch Olympic Athletes Together Honourably, calling for reform.
2004: Joins the CBC as an analyst during the Athens Olympics and names names, criticizing the poor performance of the Canadian swim team and its head coach.
2006: Admits in his autobiography, Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock, that he was “part of the problem” at the IOC when he accepted gifts from bid cities in the ’90s.
2008: Speaks at the UN in support of a French-sponsored declaration to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide.
2012: Praises Patrick Burke’s You Can Play project for encouraging locker-room equality but laments the fact that there are still no openly gay male athletes in professional sports.
(Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrien Veczan)