February 13, 2018 12:39 pm
Updated: February 13, 2018 12:41 pm

Eric Radford proud to be the first openly gay Winter Olympic gold medallist

Canadian figure skater Eric Radford, who won gold in the team event, had no idea he became the first openly gay athlete to win a Winter Olympics medal, but acknowledges the responsibility that comes with the achievement.

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Canadian figure skater Eric Radford has become the world’s first openly gay Winter Olympic gold medallist.

“I didn’t realize it hadn’t happened (before) until somebody tweeted it yesterday,” Radford told Global News. “I just feel such pride.”

Radford, 33, and skating partner Meagan Duhamel wowed the crowds with their free skate program on Feb. 12, helping to capture Canada’s first gold of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in the team figure skating event.

Over the weekend, Radford tweeted a photo of himself and his fiancé at Canada Olympic House with the hashtag #outandproud. “I take it seriously that I can deliver a powerful message and hopefully inspire other gay athletes,” he said.

Radford’s victory prompted a chorus of congratulations, including from fellow gold medallist Mark Tewksbury.

“It is so encouraging that FINALLY in 2018 an openly gay man is on top of the podium,” Tewksbury wrote. The Canadian Olympic swimmer came out as gay in 1998 after he retired from the sport, and even then, he faced backlash and lost business.

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Radford says that stigma still exists in the world of sport. Of the nearly 3,000 athletes competing at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, only 14 are openly gay; including American figure skater Adam Rippon, who snapped a photo with Radford after winning bronze in the same event. “I’ve gotten so many messages from young kids all over the country that my story has resonated with them,” Rippon said.

READ MORE: Virtue, Moir reinforce top spot in team figure skating for Canada's first gold medal

In another first for these Olympic Games, Canada House has just become the only national Olympic house to double as a “Pride House.” It comes with a gender-neutral washroom and it has hosted LGBTQ athletes from other countries.

“We want to showcase our values as Canadians, and one of our values is inclusion, diversity, and we want to make sure that our house was a safe space for everyone who came in,” said Canadian Olympic Committee communications director Photi Sotiropoulos.

READ MORE: Canada hosts LGBTQ-friendly Pride House in Pyeongchang Olympic Village

The Pride House concept first started in Vancouver during 2010 Olympics, but Russia banned Pride House at the Sochi Games. Radford came out in 2014 after the Sochi Olympics and says once he did, his performance improved. “I can just be who I am, and that helps,” Radford said. “Especially at a really high-pressure competition, like this. I don’t need all that extra added stress.”

“I can just be myself, be proud of who I am, and go out and do my best job.”

And he’s got the gold medal to prove it.

WATCH: Canadian figure skater Eric Radford says he plans to put his gold medal from the team event in a drawer in an effort to focus on his next pairs event.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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