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Kowalski, Daniel (b. 1975)  
 
page: 1  2  

Kowalski continued to turn in strong performances in the pool, winning a bronze medal in the 1500 at the 1998 World Championships.

In the same year he became a sports ambassador for the United Nations, in which role he addressed the General Assembly and made visits to refugee camps on the Thai border with Cambodia.

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In April 2000 Kowalski had a hand in the victory of his favorite basketball team, the Victoria Titans, in a pivotal semi-final match. From the huge pile of well wishes that coach Brian Goorjian received, Kowalski's, praising "the team unity you have, the incredible work ethic and your commitment to the ultimate goal," was the one that he chose to motivate his team in the pre-game locker-room pep talk. "I just came in there and read his words," Coach Goorjian declared to Grantley Bernard of the Melbourne Herald Sun. "He said it perfectly."

Kowalski's commitment to hard work and his staunch support of his teammates made him one of the most popular members of the Australian squad swimming before home fans in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Kowalski swam in only one event in Sydney, the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay. He swam in the preliminary heats that advanced Australia to the finals, but he was on the sidelines, cheering on his teammates, when the home squad claimed victory. Because of his participation on the winning team, Kowalski shared the gold medal, but he still yearned to win one with his own swim.

It was not to be. After the Sydney Games he had two shoulder-reconstruction surgeries, but they did not resolve chronic dislocation problems, and so Kowalski retired in May 2002.

"Obviously I didn't get the full symphony out of me. All elite athletes want to get the best out of themselves and I didn't quite get the best. But I'm past beating myself up. Instead of feeling that I've failed, I'm going to start feeling proud of what I've achieved," he told Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

Because of his leadership skills Kowalski was invited to be a mentor to the 2004 Olympic swimming team. He also worked as a television commentator at the Athens Games. He continued his association with the sport by serving for two years on the organizing committee for the 2007 World Championships, which were held in Melbourne.

Following the competition Kowalski was back on television, but not as a sportscaster. Teamed with singer Kate Ceberano, he appeared on the game show It Takes Two. Winnings went to charity, and Kowalski chose to benefit Beyond Blue, a foundation dedicated to educating people about depression and its treatment. He and Ceberano did well, staying on the program for seven weeks.

Kowalski next moved to the United States and spent a season as an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin before returning to Australian television to work as an interviewer at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Ironically, the man who was known for his team spirit and generous support of others felt very much alone himself because of his sexual orientation. The homophobia prevalent in male sports culture only made his situation more difficult.

Kowalski came out publicly as a gay man in April 2010, writing a moving personal story published in The Age. In it, he stated, "I finally accepted my sexuality at the end of 2006 following a huge anxiety attack at work. After what were literally years of torment, denial and very, very dark times, I couldn't live a lie to myself any more." He acknowledged having felt depressed and even suicidal during his struggles.

He is appreciative of the support of his family and friends, but he was reluctant to reach out and avail himself of other services. "I am aware there are phone numbers you can call for advice and support," he wrote, "but it was so hard because there seemed to be a lack of accessible role models who were also elite athletes." He mentioned rugby star Ian Roberts and champion diver Matthew Mitcham as the rare Australian sportsmen who had come out as gay.

While acknowledging that "there is still a long way to go," Kowalski expressed cautious optimism for the future because "the world is a little more accepting of homosexuality," adding, "Despite the dark, fearful and lonely times, being able to write this fills me with a sense of freedom, pride and relief."

Of the emotional toll of being closeted, Kowalski stated, "As an elite athlete and career education adviser, day to day I work with athletes promoting balance in their lives and being true to themselves. I can't help but feel like a hypocrite when I haven't been doing it myself" because of the extreme social pressure.

Once he found his voice, however, Kowalski was quick to speak up when Jason Akermanis, a star on the Western Bulldogs team of the Australian Football League, stated his belief that the league was "not ready" for gay players to come out and that such an acknowledgement by an athlete "would be international news and could break the fabric of a club."

Kowalski decried Akermanis's comments, expressing both anger and sadness over them and the potential damage that they could do to an athlete contemplating coming out.

As for himself, he said, "I was scared but since I've come out publicly, my life isn't really any different, but the support has been overwhelming and I wish I could've done it sooner."

Through his example and his advocacy, Kowalski will surely provide the inspiration for other athletes to be able to come out with confidence.

Linda Rapp

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arts >> Overview:  Australian Television

Despite some important breakthroughs in the depiction of gay men and lesbians in the past, Australian television today lacks any regular and open discussion of queer issues and lives.

social sciences >> Overview:  Australia

Given its history, it is somewhat surprising that Australia now has exceptionally gay-friendly laws and public attitudes, with widespread public tolerance and acceptance of the glbtq community.

arts >> Overview:  Olympic Equestrians

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arts >> Overview:  Sports: Gay Male

While sports, at least on the major competitive level, may be the final closet for gay men, there have nevertheless been a number of gay male elite athletes.

arts >> Louganis, Greg

Widely regarded as the greatest diver in history, Olympic champion Greg Louganis has acknowledged both his homosexuality and his status as a person living with AIDS.

arts >> Mitcham, Matthew

Out gold medal diver Matthew Mitcham earned the highest score in the history of the sport on his final dive in the ten-meter platform event at the 2008 Olympic Games.

arts >> Nyad, Diana

Long-distance swimmer and respected sports commentator has in more recent years spoken out on issues of glbtq rights.

arts >> Roberts, Ian

At the height of his athletic career, Australian rugby superstar Ian Roberts made the courageous decision to come out as a gay man.

arts >> Tewksbury, Mark

Olympic medalist Mark Tewksbury was closeted throughout his competitive swimming career, but since coming out has become an advocate for glbtq rights.

arts >> Weir, Johnny

Flamboyant figure skater Johnny Weir won three United States Championships and twice represented his country as an Olympian; although there had been widespread speculation that he was gay for several years, he did not come out publicly until 2011.


    Bibliography
   

Bernard, Grantley. "Swim Hero's Words Inspire." Herald Sun (Melbourne) (April 5, 2000): 80.

Buchanan, Rachel. "Swimming to Atlanta." The Age (Melbourne) (June 8, 1996): 58.

"Curtain Falls for Daniel." Daily Telegraph (Sydney) (May 9, 2002): 66.

"Daniel Kowalski." ABC News Online (2000): http://www.abc.net.au/news/olympics/athletes/kowalski.htm.

"Daniel Kowalski Criticises Jason Akermanis' Gay AFL Comments." Sydney Morning Herald (May 20, 2010): http://www.smh.com.au/afl/afl-news/gay-olympic-swimmer-angered-by-aker-20100520-vgvh.

Kowalski, Daniel. "Jumping in the Deep End." The Age (Melbourne) (April 18, 2010): http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/jumping-in-the-deep-end-20100417-sldd.html.

Magnay, Jacquelin. "Kowalski Shoulders a Tough Challenge; Swimming." Sydney Morning Herald (August 10, 1994): 58.

Smith, W. "Chasing the Dream." Courier Mail (Queensland) (April 6, 1996): Weekend, 1.

"Speaker Daniel Kowalski." ICMI Speakers & Entertainers (2010): http://www.icmi.com.au/Speaker/Sports_Olympic/Daniel_Kowalski/Biography.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Kowalski, Daniel  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2010  
    Date Last Updated June 27, 2010  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/kowalski_daniel.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2010 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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