Australian Olympic swimming champion Ian Thorpe has come out as gay in a television interview that aired Sunday evening in Australia, an announcement that follows more than a decade of denials — the first of which came just as his career skyrocketed at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, when he was just 15.
In the interview with veteran British interviewer Sir Michael Parkinson, Thorpe — a five-time Olympic gold medallist — details the years of depression he has battled while denying his sexual orientation from the world.
Part of that concealment included his own autobiography “This Is Me,” published in 2012, in which Thorpe wrote that he found questions about his sexuality hurtful.
“I accept there’s nothing else I can say or do,” Thorpe said in 2012. “There’ll always be people who are skeptical; people who want me to be gay, and others who’ll try and use it against me.”
But for first time publicly, Thorpe said Sunday he was ready to tell the truth about what what he said had become the “big lie” in his life.
“What happened was, I felt that the lie had become so big that I didn’t want people to question my integrity and a little bit of ego comes into this,” Thorpe said in a 90-minute interview. “I didn’t want people to think that I had lied about everything.”
“I’m not straight and this is only something that very recently – we’re talking in the past two weeks – I’ve been comfortable telling the closest people around me.”
“I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man.
“And I don’t want people to feel the same way I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.
“I was concerned about the reaction from my family, my friends and I’m pleased to say that in telling them, especially my parents, they told me that they love me, and they support me. And for young people out there, know that that’s usually what the answer is.”
“I’m a little bit ashamed that I didn’t come out earlier, that I didn’t have the strength to do it, I didn’t have the courage to do it, to break that lie.
“But everyone goes on their own path to do this.”
In advance of the interview, Australian gold medal-winning diver Matthew Mitcham, who came out as gay in 2008, said Saturday he hoped Australians would support Thorpe.
“I can totally understand how difficult this whole process has been for him,” Mitcham said. “I really hope this process gives him some peace.”
“The Australian public and media have a really wonderful opportunity to set an example for kids who are in Ian’s position,” he added.
Thorpe, 31, retired from swimming in 2012 after winning five Olympic gold medals, three silvers, and one bronze, and setting 22 world records — he is Australia’s most decorated Olympian.
He was 14 when he was first chosen for Australia, and became swimming’s youngest world champion at that age when he won the 400-meter freestyle at the 1988 worlds in Perth.
His career peaked at the 2000 Sydney Olympics at which he won three gold and two silver medals. He retired after the 2004 Athens Olympics, citing a lack of motivation, but made an unsuccessful comeback when he tried to qualify for the 2012 London Games.
Thorpe has recently emerged from a lengthy stay in a rehabilitation facility, having endured very public battles with drugs and alcohol.
He said he is now looking forward to finding a partner and to having children: “I’d like my own family.”
A transcript of Thorpe’s interview is here.