Barack Obama sends two gay sports icons to Sochi Olympics

Billie Jean King will head to Russia in hope of a 'watershed moment' amid anti-gay law row

LAST UPDATED AT 11:41 ON Wed 18 Dec 2013

TWO openly gay athletes have been chosen as part of the US delegation to the Sochi Olympic Games in what is being described as a mark of America's "disgust" for Russia's anti-gay laws. 

Barack Obama has chosen tennis champion Billie Jean King (pictured above) and hockey player Caitlin Cahow to attend the closing ceremony. The White House announcement made no mention of the controversial Russian laws banning "gay propaganda". However, a spokesman stressed that the delegation "represents the diversity that is the United States".

For the first time in at least 20 years, no US president, vice president, one of their wives or a current cabinet secretary will be in the US Olympic delegation.

King has said she is "proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi" and said she hoped the Games will be "a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people".

The 39-time Grand Slam title winner has previously said there is a need for a "John Carlos moment", referring to the US track star who was expelled from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics for performing a black power salute on the podium with another athlete, Tommie Smith, after winning bronze in the 200m.

Her comments came as the International Olympic Committee approved a letter, which will be sent to athletes reminding them of Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, which forbids demonstrations on Olympic grounds.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, told The Guardian it was a "positive sign" to see openly gay representatives in the delegation. "Hopefully it sends a message to the Russian people and the rest of the world that the United States values the civil and human rights of LGBT people," he said.

The move was described as "a stroke of genius" by Christine Brennan in USA Today. "What better way to show the nation's disgust for President Vladimir Putin's anti-gay propaganda law than for Obama to send an American cultural icon and sports legend who also happens to be openly gay?"

Brennan added that it "just might be the most significant delegation the United States has ever sent to an Olympic Games". · 

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