John Fennell

A young Canadian Olympic luger has expressed his relief at coming out as a proudly gay man.

Nineteen-year-old John Fennell, who competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, spoke to the Calgary Herald about the strain of trying to hide his identity from the world.

“It’s suffocating,” Fennell said. “You have to play this game of, ‘who knows?’ You can’t let off any vibes or secrets. You have to act super macho. You have to be hyper aware of your mannerisms and to not let off any vibes that could get detected. It’s very exhausting.

“It’s an all-consuming paranoia of who could find out through what means,” he added.

Fennell, who is the son of former Canadian Football League player Dave Fennell, said that there was a “lack of leadership” when it came to gay athletes participating in the Sochi Games in Russia.

“I’m an athlete. Realistically, I put on a spandex suit and slide down a mountain. I’m no message board for political movements. But we need to have leaders in our sport community.

“If it takes a 19-year-old to step up and to that, I’m more than willing to use my voice or the platform that I’ve been given to give a figurehead to gay youth in sport,” he said.

Fennell revealed that when he returned home from Sochi he came out to his mother, and then his father and brother before travelling across Canada to tell his friends.

“You know that feeling when you’re falling asleep and you have that feeling that you’re falling, and you hit the ground, and you’re suddenly awake? Well, that’s what it was like for me. I was totally, fully conscious all at once. A whole new aspect of myself opened up and it’s very liberating,” he said.

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