In 2008, Iceland's national handball team won the silver medal at the Beijing Summer Olympics, then collected a bronze at the 2010 European Championships. Daniel Orn Einarsson -- the sport's first and only out gay men's player -- wasn't on the team at the time of the Olympic match against France, but he vividly remembers his country's excitement. "I think about 90% of the nation watched the finals," Einarsson says. "It was an unbelievable achievement to reach them in a group sport, if you consider that there were only 300,000 people in Iceland."
Einarsson has been playing handball since he was 5 years old, relishing the thrill of Iceland's major sports pastime (it involves two seven-member teams throwing and dribbling on an indoor court, each looking to score in the other's goal). Now 26, Einarsson is a right wing for the northern Iceland team Akureyri, and like other gay athletes with visibility, he's in a unique position of being a national sport's representative for the gay community. However, he says he hasn't faced the same adversity as his U.S. counterparts. "People in Iceland are very open to gay athletes," Einarsson says, adding that the fans' and his team's reaction to his 2009 coming out was that "it is basically a non-issue."
After they won a silver medal in China, the Icelandic team members were greeted with a parade of 40,000 fans in Reykjavik, along with another surprise (a sculptural ode to the players' members). As for Einarsson, he enjoys the pressure and adrenaline of handball, but also how it's taught him to accept criticism. "Playing sports has given me a confidence as a gay man," he says. "I've learned to accept my limitations and approach life with more confidence."