John Curry: How the Olympic champion and LGBT icon revolutionized figure skating

How John Curry revolutionized figure skating for generations to come

John Curry was an icon, a trailblazer and one of the greatest figure skaters of all time.

His elegant ballet style revolutionized a sport he came to dominate in 1976, when he won Olympic, World, European and British titles.

Shortly after his Olympic victory, Curry was branded a gay man, making him one of the most prominent LGBT sportsmen of his time.

Curry, who died of an AIDS-related heart attack at the age of 44 in 1994, remains an inspiration to the LGBT+ community today.

As part of LGBT History Month, BBC Sport looks at how Curry changed his sport and his continued impact, through his words and those of the athletes he inspired.

The revolutionary

Birmingham-born Curry wanted to take ballet lessons when he was young, but his father stopped him, so he turned to ice skating.

“Ice skating is under the umbrella of the sport, so it was completely acceptable,” he said.

He developed a unique style, incorporating elements of ballet and modern dance with technical excellence and prodigious natural talent – ​​later teaching himself to do a triple loop jump.

But what was encouraged as a boy was met with hostility as a man, Curry’s style defying gender norms.

“I was told that I shouldn’t use my arms, that I shouldn’t spiral, that I shouldn’t try to make everything look so easy and graceful,” he said.

“I was actually told not to be so graceful.”

American skater Adam Rippon, who won team bronze at the 2018 Winter Olympics, said Curry’s skating was “so beautiful, so pure” and “unlike anything I had ever seen before “.

“It was the first time I saw someone who skated like a man, but he could also skate like a beautiful woman,” he added.

Robin Cousins, who followed Curry as Olympic champion in 1980, said his contemporary had an exceptional mix of skills.

“You can use his footwork, his choreography, his style, his jumping technique, his spinning technique, all of that as teaching tools – it doesn’t happen very often,” he said.

Despite a mixed reception from the judges, Curry “continued to pull through” as he put it, determined to overhaul the sport.

“I always wanted to be able to showcase skating in a way that I had never seen before,” Curry said.

“And I realized that the only way to have the opportunity to do that was to prove myself in the most visible and accepted way, which is to win the Olympics.”

Curry achieved this at the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, becoming the first Briton to win Olympic gold in figure skating.

John Curry won Olympic gold with the highest score awarded in the 6.0 scoring system era

The LGBT+ icon

Prior to the Olympic final, Curry was interviewed by Associated Press reporter John Vinocur and revealed his sexuality in those conversations.

Curry was exposed when the article was published shortly after his Olympic victory. Curry claimed the disclosure was off-the-record and that he was “duped” by Vinocur, who defended the article saying “there was no expectation of copy approval”.

Curry was asked about his sexuality at a press conference, in which Daily Mail sportswriter Ian Wooldridge said he gave “his second stunning performance in 7 p.m.”, although Curry was hurt by the ordeal.

“A lot of people said I came out at the Olympics, but I didn’t – I never intentionally decided to make a statement,” he said.

Dancing on Ice star Matt Evers, who won the US Championships as a junior, said he ‘couldn’t imagine’ the pressure Curry was under in that Olympic final knowing he could be knocked out .

“All the Olympic glory of this sport was taken away from him because it became the fact that he was a gay athlete,” Evers said.

Rippon, who came out publicly in 2015 and was the first openly gay athlete from the United States to medal at the Winter Olympics, said he ‘can’t imagine how scared’ Curry must have been. .

Canadian Eric Radford, who came out as gay in 2014 and won Olympic team gold in 2018, said: “It’s just awful that he’s come out like this.

“But it wasn’t for nothing – his story, although not told on his terms, still resonates and still inspires.

“There were seven athletes missing from Sochi 2014, 16 from Pyeongchang 2018 and over 35 from Beijing 2022. The growth is exponential and we needed trailblazers like John Curry.”

The cousins ​​said Curry coped with the exam “extremely well” and showed an admirable refusal to compromise.

He said: “It didn’t change who he was as a person and it certainly didn’t change who he was going to be as a performer, he made that very clear.”

Curry was diagnosed with HIV in 1987 and AIDS in 1991, spending his final years in the West Midlands with his mother Rita.

Lasting influence

British figure skaters Robin Cousins ​​(left) and John Curry (right)
Britain’s Robin Cousins ​​and John Curry have won back-to-back Olympic figure skating titles

Curry was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1976 and was also named an OBE.

After winning the World Championships, he did what we had dreamed of all his life and turned professional, starting the John Curry Theater of Skating – basically ballet on ice.

Curry previously said he competed “for the opportunity to do what I did later.”

He and his skaters have performed at famous venues like Albert Hall in London and the Met in New York, and in front of celebrities including singer Diana Ross.

“It brought skating into a new era and really changed the sport on a professional level,” Evers said.

Curry’s lasting influence is evident in television shows like Dancing on Ice at the pinnacle of elite sport.

“I find it very hard to think that our sport would be where it is now without John Curry,” Cousins ​​said.

“His legacy is rooted in a lot of figure skating that we now see across all disciplines.”

Radford added, “He moved in a way that I had never seen any other male figure skater move. That classic style of skating still permeates the sport today.”

Rippon said: “Whenever I doubt myself I think back to John Curry and what he did and how different it was.”

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