By Duncan Mackay

Openly gay former tennis player Billie Jean King will be part of the US delegation at Sochi 2014 ©Getty ImagesDecember 17 - A strong message over opposition to Russia's controversial anti-gay propaganda law is set to be delivered by the United States with the announcement today that its official Government delegation for Sochi 2014 will include former tennis player Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow, a two-time Olympic ice hockey medallist, who are both openly lesbians. 

But it will not include President Barack Obama or the First Lady, his wife Michelle, who attended London 2012 on his behalf, or Vice-President Joe Biden, the White House's representative at Vancouver 2010. 

It will be the first time since Sydney 2000 that the President or former President, First Lady or Vice-President has not led to the US delegation to the Olympics. 

A statement from the White House claimed Obama's schedule will not allow him to travel to Sochi for the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics on February 7.

"President Obama is extremely proud of our US athletes and looks forward to cheering them on from Washington," the statement said.

"He knows they will showcase to the world the best of America -diversity, determination and teamwork."

Vice-President Joe Biden represented the United States Government at the last Winter Olympics, Vancouver 2010 ©Getty ImagesVice-President Joe Biden represented the United States Government at the last Winter Olympics, Vancouver 2010 ©Getty Images

The delegation will be led by Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of Homeland Security and current President of the University of California, and will also include figure skater Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion and former speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, both five-time Olympic gold medallists. 

Obama has been among the most prominent critics of the controversial law passed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June which bans propaganda about "non-traditional sexual relations" as a means of protecting children. 

The International Olympic Committee has claimed it has assurances from Russian organisers that athletes, officials and spectators will not face discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But French President Francois Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck have already both announced that they will not be attending Sochi 2014, decisions widely interpreted as a protest against Russia's human rights record, including the anti-gay protests law.

King had been the first prominent professional female athlete to come out as a lesbian in 1981 duringa palimony lawsuit launched by a former partner.

In 2009 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama for her work advocating for the rights of women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

Earlier this year, King, winner of a 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 singles, 16 women's doubles, and 11 mixed doubles titles, had told USA Today newspaper that he American athletes should speak out against the Russian anti-gay legislation.

"I would hope the majority of the athletes would speak out," King, who is now 70, told the newspaper.

"It's a great platform."

Caitlin Cahow was a member of the United States ice hockey team that won silver medals at Vancouver 2010 ©Getty ImagesCaitlin Cahow was a member of the United States ice hockey team that won silver medals at Vancouver 2010 ©Getty Images

Cahow, meanwhile, announced last month that she was gay. 

During an interview with GO! Athletes website she denounced calls for a US boycott and instead encouraged gay athletes to treat Sochi 2014 to invoke the spirit of Jesse Owens.

"Did you see Jesse Owens saying, 'I don't think I'm going to participate in the Olympics in Germany because it's an affront to my race'?," said Cahow, a member of the US ice hockey team that won bronze and silver medals at Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010 respectively.


"He went.

"He competed.

"He won.

"He did it silently and peacefully.

"He demonstrated the greatness of who he was as an African-American athlete.

"It's precisely the same philosophy we should be taking to Russia."

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) welcomed the announcement of the delegation by the White House.

"An impressive group of officials and iconic athletes will represent our Government at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi," said Patrick Sandusky, spokesman for the USOC.

"We're honoured to assist their participation in any way that we can and certain that America's elite athletes will put on a great show."

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