Finnish Olympic swimmer Ari-Pekka Liukkonen has come out of the closet as a gay man, reports YLE.
The winner of the bronze medal in the 4x50m mixed freestyle relay at the 2012 European Championships, Liukkonen said he chose to publicly reveal his own sexuality in hopes of raising awareness of the antigay legislation passed in Russia – the host county of the 2014 Winter Games.
“I wanted to start a broader discussion in connection with Sochi, because it’s sad that the legislation in Russia restricts the human rights of young people and others,” Liukkonen told Yle, noting that he hoped the sports world would soon no longer “find homosexuality to be any kind of news.”
Liukkonen – who is the first gay Finnish athlete to come out of the closet while remaining active in his career – says accepting his sexuality was “a long, slow process for me, but now I’m there” and his family has not only “received the news positively,” but “they had already sensed that I am like this.”
Liukkonen also revealed that he is currently training for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 and hopes LGBT acceptance in his country will soon become commonplace. “I hope that in Finland we can get to the stage where we don’t need to talk about this anymore as soon as possible,” Liukkonen told YLE. “Homosexuality is the same kind of characteristic as whether a person has blue or brown eyes, or whether they are left- or right-handed.”
“It’s a really great feeling that I can finally be myself,” he added.