With 70 countries, 9,500 participants, and 35 athletic disciplines ranging from diving to billiards, the prospect of keeping track of Gay Games VIII Cologne, which kicks off this weekend, may seem a little daunting. You can follow Here Media's own Mark Umbach as he chronicles his journey to the gold for softball or read Outsports' always-comprehensive coverage. But before you start rooting for just any old team, we've got a few events, athletes, and items of note to keep your eye on.
Click through for our comprehensive guide on how to approach the Gay Games.
We'll see synchronized swimming at the 2012 Olympics, but it won't be
like this. It's the one of two Olympic sports that exclude men from
competition (the other is rhythmic gymnastics, also a bummer), but the
Gay Games features fierce competition with all-male, all-female, and
coed teams. The members of the San Francisco Tsunami, a coed squad,
don't stick with the tired old-school style either. Watch them in action
at the 2009 Outgames, where they won the gold medal with this risque
Argentine ballroom dancers should go to the Gay Games with a little more spring in their step, as the country is the latest to legalize same-sex marriage. Gay couples may not be completely integrated in the milongas of Buenos Aires, but couples like Steve Valentine and Robert Tristan can let loose in Cologne.
Queercore rocker Kaia Wilson of the Butchies and Team Dresch is heading to the Gay Games to compete in table tennis, a sport she calls misunderstood. To prep for her trip, she's been raising funds and training for a year with five-time U.S. men's singles champion Sean O'Neill.
As so-called corrective rape is allowed to flourish in countries like South Africa, a team of lesbian soccer players heads to the Gay Games to feel more at home. All of the women on the team, Chosen Few, have experienced violence, harassment, or insults because of their sexuality, but they're motivated to band together by their love of the sport and the need to advance gay rights.
OK, it's not Madonna, Lady Gaga, or even Toni Braxton singing the Gay Games anthem, but Taylor Dayne, who will belt "Facing a Miracle" during opening ceremonies. If you grew up in the '80s and '90s, Taylor Dayne is plenty gay enough.
If you missed this year's Burning Man, you can at least get your fill of fire artists at Cologne. A group of 24 fire-flinging performance artists -- hot in every sense of the word -- will make Dayne's Gay Games anthem that much more spectacular.
He won't be competing, but he'll be in attendance -- Olympic gold-winning diver and every red-blooded gay man's dream boyfriend Matthew Mitcham will be perched in the stands at the Cologne games. Anywhere Matthew is has to be a good place to be.
The history of the Gay Games is chronicled at an exhibit at the Stonewall Library and Archives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Some fun facts: the Gay Games were originally called the Gay Olympics until the U.S. Olympic Committees sued, and Tina Turner attended the very first queer Olympiad in 1982.
Leave it to San Francisco to have the oldest LGBT cheer squad in the world -- they've already shaken things up on America's Got Talent, and now they're off to Germany to compete. Bring it on!