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U.S. delegate Boitano comes out as gay ahead of Sochi

Brian Boitano of the United States skates in the men's technical program at the Goodwill Winter Games in Lake Placid February 17.
Brian Boitano of the United States skates in the men's technical program at the Goodwill Winter Games in Lake Placid February 17.

(Reuters) - American Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano said on Thursday he is gay, making the announcement two days after being named to the official United States delegation to the Sochi Winter Games.

"I am many things: a son, a brother, and uncle, a friend, an athlete, a cook, an author, and being gay is just one part of who I am," said Boitano, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist in a statement. "First and foremost I am an American athlete and I am proud to live in a country that encourages diversity, openness and tolerance.

"As an athlete, I hope we can remain focused on the Olympic spirit which celebrates achievement in sport by peoples of all nations."

Boitano becomes the third openly gay athlete named by President Barack Obama to the U.S. delegation, joining tennis great Billie Jean King and Olympic ice hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow in drawing more attention to Russia's controversial anti-gay laws.

Their selection is being widely viewed as a rejection of Russia's laws which include a ban on the spread of homosexual propaganda among minors.

The laws have been criticized globally in the buildup to the Winter Games, which open on February 7 in Sochi.

The White House added to the symbolism when it announced neither the president, the first lady or Vice President Joe Biden would be attending the Sochi Games.

Instead, the U.S. delegation will be led by former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Boitano, who represented the United States at three Olympics, will attend the opening ceremonies along with King.

"It has been my experience from competing around the world and in Russia that Olympic athletes can come together in friendship, peace and mutual respect regardless of their individual country's practices," added Boitano. "It is my desire to be defined by my achievements and my contributions.

"While I am proud to play a public role in representing the American Olympic delegation as a former Olympic athlete, I have always reserved my private life for my family and friends and will continue to do so."

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Gene Cherry, Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)

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