TORONTO — Australia’s Olympic swimming icon Ian Thorpe, in an interview that aired Sunday, revealed he is gay.
“I am not straight,” Thorpe told Michael Parkinson, putting an end to years of public speculation.
“I’ve wanted to for some time,” he said. “I didn’t feel I could.”
The statement contradicted one in his 2012 autobiography, This Is Me, in which the athlete wrote: “For the record, I am not gay and all of my sexual experiences have been straight. I’m attracted to women.”
Now 31, Thorpe explained he wasn’t sure Australia wanted its Olympic champion to be gay. “I am telling the world that I am,” he said.
On Sunday, the swimmer tweeted:
To Everyone who has sent a message of support I sincerely Thank you!
— Ian Thorpe (@IanThorpe) July 13, 2014
Thorpe won five gold medals at the Olympics as well as three silvers and a bronze and set 22 world records before officially retiring in 2012. He was the sport’s youngest world champion when he won the 400-metre freestyle in 1998 at only 14 years old.
In Sunday’s televised interview, Thorpe admitted he battled depression and alcoholism.
“I knew I was a little bit different but there were times that I just wasn’t happy,” he said.
Thorpe has received plenty of support on social media.
I’m sure it must have been incredibly hard for @IanThorpe to come out, but I hope this bring him peace and that everyone respects his choice
— Stephanie Rice (@ItsStephRice) July 12, 2014
What a relief of stress & pain for @IanThorpe. True, we don’t care one way or another, so long as you are happy and at peace with yourself
— Nicole Livingstone (@NicLiv) July 13, 2014
In all seriousness, Ian Thorpe coming out might actually be the biggest breakthrough for gay acceptance Australia has ever seen. #IanThorpe
— Joe Hildebrand (@Joe_Hildebrand) July 13, 2014
Thorpe’s fellow Australian Olympic swimmers Daniel Kowalski and Matthew Mitcham previously said they are gay.
“It took him 15 years to change his answer,” Mitcham told the Sydney Morning Herald, “which is a perfect indicator of his struggle.”
A number of Olympic swimmers and divers have come out as gay, including Canada’s gold medalist Mark Tewksbury in 1998.
Others include American diver Greg Louganis and swimmer Bruce Hayes as well as Dutch swimmer Johan Kenkhuis.
Britain’s medal-winning diver Tom Daley came out late last year as bisexual and later said he is gay.
Thorpe’s coming out is big news in Australia.
Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons acknowledged “with homophobia still such an omnipresent force in Australian life, the fact that our most admired modern sportsperson declares himself gay, is significant, and yet one more forearm jolt to the Hydra head of the beast known as bigotry.”
Australian TV personality Tom Ballard wrote in the Herald: “For those who’ve heard this news and shrug and casually asks ‘who cares?’, I’d simply answer ’15-year-old closeted me’. Scared, little, questioning Tom Ballard would have cared a lot if nine years ago he’d seen swimming champion and national treasure Ian Thorpe on the news, proudly identifying as a successful sportsman and a bloke who liked blokes.”
But, one of the swimmer’s former rivals expressed hope that Thorpe’s extraordinary accomplishments will not be overshadowed.
Grant Hackett told Nine Network: “He should be remembered as one of our greatest Olympians, not the guy who came out.”
© Shaw Media, 2014