Winter Olympics 2014: USA to send two openly gay sportswomen to Sochi, including Billie Jean King

Choice of delegates appears a statement on controversial laws in Russia

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The Independent Online

The United States presidential delegations for the Winter Olympics in Sochi will include two openly gay sportswomen, sending a defiant message over Russia's anti-gay laws.

Former tennis star Billie Jean King and two-time ice hockey medallist Caitlin Cahow will attend the opening and closing ceremonies respectively.

The host nation's president Vladimir Putin passed a law in June prohibiting 'propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors', which has been widely condemned.

The inclusion of King, in particular, and Cahow has been viewed as a challenge to the controversial legislation and a White House statement reported by USA Today said the delegation "represents the diversity that is the United States".

Cahow told the newspaper: "It's obviously a statement that's being made, but I think it's an incredibly respectful one.

"Basically, the White House is highlighting Americans who know what it means to have freedoms and liberties under the constitution. That's really what we're representing in Sochi and it's not at all different from what's espoused in the spirit of Olympism.

"So I think it's just a great group of people. I can't believe I've been named one of them because it's a remarkable roster and I just think that we're going to represent what the best America can be. Hopefully, it will unify all of Team USA and send a message of love and acceptance to the world."

Andre Banks, the executive director of gay rights group All Out, added: "It's hard to look at this delegation without seeing it as a criticism of Putin's anti-gay laws.

"What it's doing is showing the true power of the Olympics, the ability to move people, to change people's minds and open them up to new ways of thinking. The delegation is shining a light on the values of the Olympics."

The delegation for the opening ceremony will be led by University of California president Janet Napolitano and will also feature Michael McFaul, the United States ambassador to the Russian Federation, deputy chief of staff for policy Robert Nabors, 1988 Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano and King.

For the closing ceremony, McFaul and Cahow will be joined by five-time speed-skating gold medallists Bonnie Blair and Dr Eric Heiden in a delegation led by deputy secretary of state William Burns.

That means that for the first time, the US delegations will not include the president, first lady or vice-president, with the White House's statement adding that President Obama's schedule will not allow him to travel to Sochi.

"President Obama is extremely proud of our US athletes and looks forward to cheering them on from Washington," it read. "He knows they will showcase to the world the best of America - diversity, determination and teamwork."