Australian Olympic hero and swimming legend Ian Thorpe came out as gay in a tell-all interview with Sir Michael Parkinson on Australia’s Ten Network on Sunday night. It wasn’t coming out as gay after years of denial that was the surprising news, it was the reason he feared coming out that has become the bigger story.
The 31-year-old Thorpe, who has won five Olympic gold medals along with 11 World Championship gold medals, has spent years battling rumors of his sexuality. He even denied the rumors in his 2012 autobiography “This Is Me.” But still, the rumors persisted, and Thorpe continued to deny them, which only raised a bigger question when the champion freestyler revealed that he is indeed gay. In the interview, Thorpe tells Parkinson that fear of how he would be received by the Australian audience was the main factor of staying closeted.
“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. I didn’t want people to think that I had lied about everything. A part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay. I am telling not only Australia, I’m telling the world that I am and I hope this makes it easier for others now.”
Thorpe added that he didn’t have the strength to come out sooner, although he wishes he did. The support he has drawn from his family, friends and fan base has helped Thorpe discover a comfort with himself and his sexuality that he hopes others can learn from. He revealed, “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.”
The reason why a coming out story like Thorpe matters is because of what he went through by hiding his secret. The fear of non-acceptance led him down a path of internal darkness that eventually led to him being admitted to a rehabilitation center for depression. Thorpe admitted he turned to alcohol to relieve the stress, but that made it worse until he found a way to deal with his problems and find that comfort to tell the world that he is gay. The support he has found in doing so is a message of love, acceptance and freedom to allow the heart to love.