During an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson which aired Sunday night, Australian Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe came out as gay.
“You’ve always said that you’re not gay,” Parkinson asked. “Is all of that true?”
“I’ve thought about this for a long time,” Thorpe, called the Thorpedo during the height of his swimming career, said. “I’m not straight. And this is only something that very recently – in the past two weeks – I’ve been comfortable telling the closest people around me exactly that.”
Thorpe, battled with depression for a long time and even considered suicide. He started taking anti-depressants and drinking at age 19.
“I knew I needed something that was a safety net for me,” Thorpe said. “When I looked at anti-depressants that aren’t working, I’ll have a drink and I feel better, then it becomes cyclical. You start to drink and you start to self-medicate.”
Thorpe didn’t want to share his problems because he felt he was supposed to be living the dream and nothing should be wrong. He also didn’t accept being gay for a long time.
“I didn’t accept it in myself,” he said. “I didn’t want to be gay. I was still gay at the end of the day. Yes, I lied about it.”
Thorpe feared hurting his loved ones and worried his friends would be accused of being his lovers. His fear came true one day in 2009.
“My housemate who lived with me – I was on a vacation in Brazil, there was a photo, instantly people said: ‘This is my lover.’ He was my housemate, one of my best friends, and he was drawn into this. And I loathed that because I tried to protect everyone from it.”
By 17, the Thorpedo has accomplished all his goals, winning five gold, three silver and one bronze Olympic medal, and smashing 22 world records.
However, he struggled with the fame his success brought. When he needed peace to train, he was interrupted by photographers and felt his career was not his own, but other peoples.
“I felt that I needed to get my life back,” he said. “And I thought that the way I could do it was to stop swimming. It’s unfortunate that I did it, and I know why I did it. Now I wish that I hadn’t but it’s what I needed to do.”
Thorpe retired from professional swimming in 2012.
Now, Thorpe is considering being a swim instructor and working for his charity that helps Indigenous people get employed and educated.
Since coming out just a few days ago, Thorpe has received lots of support on social media. He says he wished he came out earlier.
“My parents told me that they love me and that they support me,” he said. “I’m a little bit ashamed that I didn’t come out earlier. That I didn’t have the strength to do it, that I didn’t have the courage to break that lie. I don’t want that struggle to be so hard for other people.”