The United States has never had a publicly out male gymnast participate in the Olympics outside of equestrian events. Gymnast Josh Dixon hopes to be the first.
The Stanford grad took a big step toward that goal at the U.S. Men’s Qualifier on Saturday in Colorado Springs, finishing second overall out of the 72 competitors. He also tied for wins in two events: floor exercise and high bar. It was a game-changing come-back performance for Dixon, who tore his Achilles tendon last spring.
Now Dixon is talking about his personal life and sexual orientation publicly for the first time. Like charging at the vault, he’s coming at it at full speed.
Dixon and his two sisters were all adopted at birth by Michael and Kathy Dixon. While the three children were born at different times, they share the same birth mother, whom none of the family has ever met. It was through his sisters that he first discovered gymnastics.
The Dixon household was diverse: Josh is half-black and half-Japanese, while his father Michael is white and his mother Kathy is Japanese.
Maybe it was the multicultural household he grew up in, but Dixon never felt his early crushes on boys were wrong. Still, he didn’t talk about those crushes because he was immersed in gymnastics from the time he hit puberty.
“Eat, sleep, train and do homework,” was the extent of Dixon’s life. “Gymnastics was my number one priority, and if something got in the way of that I had to push it aside.”
The mantra was reflected in his interview with Outsports. When asked about gymnastics, he could rattle of incredibly detailed accounts of his scores and performances. Questions about his personal life were more of a struggle for him to answer.
The focus on his sport has paid off. In high school he was a four-time member of the USA Junior National team, placing second all-around at the 2006 Visa U.S. Championships. By end of college career he had accomplished most of what he wanted to do in sports. His Stanford team won national championships in 2009 and 2011. In his senior season he placed seventh overall at the NCAA Championships. He is a seven-time All-American.
All that’s left is an Olympic gold medal. On Stanford’s Web site, Dixon said his ultimate ESPN highlight would be “seeing a U.S. men’s gymnastics team win an Olympic Team Title.” He doesn’t just want to see the highlight; He wants to be part of it.
Still recovering from his Achilles injury, Dixon moved to the Olympic training center in December 2011, along with five other gymnasts. The training has paid off so far, with his strong finish on Saturday. The next hurdle for Dixon is the Visa Championships, June 7-10 in St. Louis. The top 15 finishers at that meet then go on to the Olympic Trials, June 28-July 1, in his home town of San Jose. From there, six men will be chosen to represent the United States at the London Olympics.
Even as he gets closer to his Olympic dreams, and his focus narrows more than ever on his training and competition, Dixon is ready to talk about his sexual orientation.
In his sophomore year at Stanford, one of his best friends on the gymnastics team at the University of Illinois came out to him. Dixon reciprocated the revelation; Instantly, they had a mutual support structure with another gay collegiate athlete.
When he started exploring his sexuality in his junior year, he quickly learned he wasn’t the only gay male athlete at Stanford, as he was soon dating another varsity athlete. When some members of the gymnastics team noticed Dixon was spending a lot of time with one particular friend, Dixon said they were quite comfortable bringing it up.
“Who’s this guy you’ve been hanging out with?” One of them asked.
Josh told them he was dating the other male student.
“Oh that’s cool,” was the response.
What was particularly cool to them was Josh’s willingness to share that very personal part of his life with them. Word spread quickly through the gymnastics world. “A lot of guys in the gymnastics community talk,” Dixon said.
When he arrived for training in Colorado Springs last winter, his suitemate asked Dixon if the rumors were true.
“Oh that’s cool,” was the response.
In fact, Dixon said he has not had a single negative response “in any way, shape or form.” If anything, the only homophobia he has encountered has been from within himself. He acknowledges he once felt internal pressure about being a gay man in what some label the “gay sport” of gymnastics. He didn’t want to fall into a stereotype. But he’s come to embrace it, and he says his sexual orientation now makes him stand out more at the elite level. While he stands out, he isn’t the only one. Dixon knows of at least three more still competing in college, and he says he is not the only elite-level American gymnast who is gay.
One concern that remains is the judges. Gymnastics is one of only a handful of Olympic sports hand out medals based on the scores of judges. While some claimed figure skater Johnny Weir’s perceived sexual orientation hurt him with the judges in the 2010 Winter Olympics, it certainly did not play a factor when Matthew Mitcham posted the highest-scoring dive in Olympic history in 2008.
When asked about the timing of this article and how it may affect his performance in the eyes of the judges or Olympic selection committee, Dixon had no fear.
“This would never affect how I’m judged or my position on the U.S. Olympic team,” Dixon said with confidence and conviction.
The number of out male Olympians, retired or otherwise, is miniscule. Only a handful of Americans have come out publicly after their last Olympics: Most notably Greg Louganis, Johnny Weir and Tom Waddell. Only two American men we know of were ever out publicly at the Olympics: Divers David Pichler and Pattick Jeffrey. Matthew Mitcham and Johan Kenkhuis have been recent openly gay male Olympians, representing Australia and the Netherlands. There has never been a publicly out gymnast in the Olympics, male or female. Ji Wallace, the trampoline gold medalist in 2000, came out after he competed.
So what are Dixon’s chances of making history as the first out American gymnast at the Olympics? It will depend on how well he and the other gymnasts perform at these next two big meets. If his performance on Saturday was any indication, he’s got a great shot.