Outpouring of Support for Daniela Ryf as the World Champ Opens Up About Her Sexuality

In a sweeping interview, Ryf talks about loving a woman, splitting with her coach, and finding a new direction.

Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images for IRONMAN

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Although the nine-time world champion answered a few quick questions for Triathlete earlier this week in advance of her U.S. tour and hinted that she’d been reevaluating her priorities during COVID, she then expanded on that in a wide-ranging interview with Swiss paper Schweizer Illustrierte that was released yesterday.

In the interview, she said she’d struggled with pressure since her 2018 Kona win and had been evaluating what makes her happy. Most noteworthy, she revealed she had split with long-time coach Brett Sutton and said that she’d fallen in love with a woman, which also surprised her since she had only loved men before. “I don’t want to hide,” she said. “I also want to set an example and say: live and let live. Love and let love.”

Ryf posted the English translation of the interview to her website.

The support for her openness and honesty was quick and came from all corners of the triathlon world. On the Instagram post, where she shared the interview, many of the other top pros applauded her. 70.3 world champ Holly Lawrence, who also posted the article on her own social media and encouraged people to read it, said, “LOVE LOVE LOVE reading this article. I always say to people who think you’re a robot 😂 – “there’s way more to Daniela than you get to you see” – and that’s from few glimpses I’ve got from spending the smallest amount of time with you. Great article. Love the honesty!! ❤️”

Ryf, herself, noted that she didn’t want to focus on who she falls in love with. “Why do you have to give it a name at all?” she said. “I don’t want to label it. I can fall in love with men and women, so what.” However, much of the attention the interview generated on social media and in the triathlon world was on the coming out aspect of her story.

“Anytime a celebrity comes out or is open about their sexuality it is incredibly empowering for other gay or bisexual athletes to feel more comfortable in their own skin,” said Olympian and ITU world champion Siri Lindley, who notably came out as gay back in the ’90s and has publicly talked about how she was disowned by her father for that.

Lindley noted that it, likely, isn’t as big a deal now as it was then to be open about your sexuality, as there have been far more gay, lesbian, and bisexual celebrities and athletes, and more coverage in the media—but it still takes courage. And Ryf still sets a powerful example for other athletes.

“She will empower many other athletes to accept and love themselves for whoever they are and whomever they love,” said Lindley.

And, most importantly, Lindley said, living your life as your authentic self also empowers you—and we could see an even stronger and happier Ryf moving forward. “My belief is that when we live authentically we are more powerful than we could ever imagine in everything from our careers, to our relationships, and just our lives in general,” she said.

Self-coaching herself

Ryf’s long-time coach Brett Sutton also commended her for her courage in doing the interview and confirmed they had split ways—but that there was “no behind-the-scenes gossip” and that the interview had no influence on the coaching decision. It was simply time for a new path for each.

“Again she shows she is not just a courageous athlete, but exhibits the same courage in her life decisions,” he said.

Sutton, the legendary and controversial coach, worked with Ryf for eight years and ushered her from a long ITU career to her nine world titles across the Ironman and 70.3 distance, establishing her as one of the greatest triathletes of all time. “It’s been a great journey,” he said. “I’m proud to have been able to be a part.”

However, the COVID pandemic caused frustration “but also enlightenment” for an athlete who loves racing, he said, and gave her a chance to evaluate her achievements and step outside of the triathlon bubble. She also noted in both the Swiss interview and to Triathlete that she had returned to school to finish her degree in the last year. Sutton said that decision gave her an opportunity to think about her future too.

“It’s a good time for her to now reinvent herself both as an athlete and for the future,” he said.

Ryf’s manager confirmed she is now coaching herself.

The Bahrain Question

While support has been overwhelming for Ryf’s openness, there was one lingering question: How would her long-time sponsor the Bahrain 13 team respond? The team, which is made up of many of the top triathletes in the world, is backed by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa and was created to promote the sport across the Gulf region and to promote the country abroad.

Although Bahrain repealed the law banning homosexuality for those over 21 in 1976, there continue to be laws against “indecency” and “immorality” and there have been instances of people being prosecuted under those provisions for “cross-dressing” or having “gay parties,” according to Human Rights Watch. The penal code also technically criminalizes sex outside of marriage and same-sex marriage is not legally recognized. LGBT people continue to face discrimination in the region.

When asked about this in the interview and about how the team sponsors would respond, Ryf said, “I would be very disappointed if my openness resulted in pushback from my partners.”

The Bahrain 13 spokesperson confirmed Ryf would continue to be a part of the team and a part of team events in Bahrain, but did not expand:

“Daniela has been a valuable member of the team from the start, and will continue to be so. She will continue to be part of team activities in Bahrain.”

What now?

As she’s noted, Ryf will now race the North American 70.3 Championships in St. George, Utah next weekend and then the North American Ironman Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma in three weeks—with a training stint in Sedona, Arizona in between.

Just because she’s pursuing an MBA in business psychology, doesn’t mean she’s giving up on triathlon. While she said she’s struggled with pressure since her 2018 Kona win, which she managed despite a devastating jellyfish sting, she realized she hasn’t lost her love of the sport. Her win at 70.3 Dubai last month made her realize, “My fire actually burns as strong as ever, but I almost got too close to the flame.” Now she has balance and openness and, if Lindley’s right, even more power than before.

Read Ryf’s full interview in English.

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