ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Lesbian Austrian ski jumper and gay rights advocate Daniela Iraschko-Stolz says public reaction to a Russian law banning homosexual propaganda among minors had been exaggerated and that she wants to focus on sport at the Winter Olympic.
Iraschko-Stolz, 30, married her lesbian partner last year, becoming a rare Austrian athlete to come out openly as gay. Stolz is her partner’s surname.
Russia has come under heavy international criticism for a law banning the spread of “gay propaganda” among minors.
Asked ahead of her competition in the mountains above Sochi whether she was worried about the law, Iraschko-Stolz replied: “No, on the contrary, I think everything is being blown up bigger than it is. I had a very good welcome like every other athlete. There were absolutely no problems.”
Moscow says the law is needed to defend young people but activists say it is fuelling anti-gay violence in Russia.
Russian police detained gay rights activists who tried to protest on Moscow’s Red Square and in St Petersburg on Friday, shortly before the Games officially opened.
“Naturally you have to look at it from a different point of view and always be critical, but especially in my situation, I don’t want to talk too much about it,” said the Austrian, who is one of the leading contenders for a medal in Tuesday’s normal hill event.
“I only want to focus on sports and I think if you’re tolerant towards everyone else they treat you the same way and it gives you a lot of joy. I think you can make a statement by jumping well.”
Iraschko-Stolz dominated the three jumps in the first training session on Saturday, coming first in two and second in the other. She slipped and fell at the end of the second jump but said she had only slightly injured her hand.
Women’s ski jumping is making its first appearance at a Winter Games, thanks in part to a decade-long pressure campaign by female athletes and their backers.
Iraschko-Stolz was one of 15 women jumpers who unsuccessfully sued the organisers of the 2010 Games in a bid to be allowed to compete.
“Living in the Olympic village is much better than I’d ever imagined. At the moment I’m living like a fairy tale because as a child I always wanted to take part in the Olympics Games,” she said.
“That it’s happening now at the age of 30 is unbelievable... every day when I wake up I’m still here and that must mean it’s true.”
Additional reporting by Inke Kappeler, editing by Mitch Phillips