Embrace of Russian athletes defining sporting moment of summer

As a direct rebuttal towards the anti-gay sentiments from their Russian counterparts, athletes Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firov embraced each other on the medal stand at the 2013 IAAF track championships in Moscow. Part of the 4×400 meter relay team that claimed the gold medal, it was not only the defining moment of the event, but of the entire summer, possibly the entire year.

Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova kiss during the 4x400m Relay medal ceremony (Image by Grigory Dukor, Reuters)

Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova kiss during the 4x400m Relay medal ceremony (Image by Grigory Dukor, Reuters)

The moment evoked memories of the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute in which gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos raised their fists on the podium. Wearing Olympic Project for Human Rights badges, it was a statement towards the racism they endured in the United States. One of the most iconic images in sports history, even silver medalist Peter Norman wore a badge as a sign of solidarity in their struggle for human rights.

Although Smith and Carlos were treated by boos and jeers by the fans in attendance, Ryzhova and Firov were greeted by cheers and applause. While sources from the Russian track team stated that it was just a congratulatory kiss, the image truly proves that a kiss is worth a thousand words. Regardless of its meaning, the message from the kiss was certainly interpreted differently by the rest of the sporting world.

Of note, other athletes at the games showed their support for equality in unique ways. Emma Green Tregaro and Moa Hjelmer decorated their nails in a rainbow pattern, while Nick Symmonds dedicated his win to gay friends in the United States.

Even if the kiss was meant to be just congratulatory, it has transformed into a statement that brings tremendous confidence and support to the LGBT athletic movement. While no other arena is as powerful or universal as sport in conveying a message, the momentum of this kiss has only set the stage for the next major athletic event in Russia, the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

While the struggles of LGBT individuals is one that endures in many parts of the world, the message that the embrace provides is certainly a powerful statement that all people deserve to be treated equally. In addition, it also reinforces the message that athletes must not boycott the 2014 Sochi Winter Games; proving that more can be accomplished through participation than by running away.

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