’I’m proud to be a gay man’

Written By komlim puldel on Minggu, 13 Juli 2014 | 20.01

Swimming hero Ian Thorpe confirms his sexuality for the first time to veteran British interviewer Sir Michael Parkinson. Courtesy: Channel 10

With no question off limits, Sir Michael Parkinson CBE explores the private and sometimes troubled world of Ian Thorpe OAM.

Swimmer Ian Thorpe of Australia speaks with reporters during a press conference near the Olympic Stadium in London. Picture: AFP / file Source: AFP

IT'S the interview revelation that had Australia clapping their hands for Ian Thorpe the champion once more.

After years of public denials and endless speculation surrounding his sexuality, the Olympic swimming champion has finally opened up and revealed the truth – he is gay.

In a TV tell-all on Channel 10, Thorpe, 31, sat down with British talk show legend Sir Michael Parkinson and bravely addressed the question that has dogged him for years.

'WHY DIDN'T HE DO IT YEARS AGO?'

WORLD REACTS TO THORPIE NEWS

IAN'S COMING OUT 'WILL SAVE LIVES'

Parkinson asked Thorpe when he was first faced with the question of his sexuality – he recalled that he was just 16 years old.

Ian Thorpe with one of his many gold medals. Source: AFP

"You've always said that you're not gay, you've always said that your sexual experiences have been with women. Is all of that true?"

"Well that's true, but I've thought about this for a long time. 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've wanted to [come out] for some time, but I couldn't, I didn't feel as though I could. The problem was, I was asked at such a young age about my sexuality.

Sir Michael Parkinson interviews Ian Thorpe in a world exclusive on Channel 10. Source: Channel 10

"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.

"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."

Swimmers (L-R) Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett & Michael Klim cheer home teammate Kowalski during final leg before winning final of 4x200 freestyle relay at World Championships in Perth, 13/01/98. Source: News Corp Australia

"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."

The Australian icon added that upon telling family and friends they admitted they had their suspicions but have been incredibly supportive. "I'm pleased to say in telling them, especially my parents, they love me, and they support me.

"I am telling the world that I am gay … and I hope this makes it easier for others now, and even if you've held it in for years, it feels easier to get it out."

The record-breaker admitted that he is ashamed he didn't come out earlier but said that he didn't have the courage or the strength to "break the lie".

Swimmer Ian Thorpe raises his arm after winning final of men's 400 freestyle at World Championships in Perth, 15/01/98. Picture: Gregg Porteous. Source: News Corp Australia

In the remainder of the hour-long interview with Parkinson, the man we all know and love is devastatingly candid about his injuries, including a broken shoulder that may never allow him to swim again, and his demons which have taken their toll on the champ over the years.

"I had depression before I was 19, he admitted. "I had it growing up but the severity of it really hit me then… I knew I was a little bit different but there were times that I just wasn't happy… It was this lethargy that followed me that I didn't understand and with all of those kind of achievements I didn't understand why I wasn't completely over the moon."

The five-time Olympic gold medalist revealed he began taking antidepressants at the age of 18: "I knew that I needed to have something that was a safety net for me," he said.

Thorpe says he did seek help but kept his illness from his family and swim team. "Anti-depressants removed the worst part of where you can go to with depression such as suicide but they also dulled the good times," he said.

Ian Thorpe, Australian swimmer, during a portrait session at the office of his book publisher Simon and Schuster, Bloomsbury, London on November 8 2012 (Photo by Tom Jenkins) Source: Getty Images

He then turned to alcohol when he realised that antidepressants weren't working for him. "It becomes cyclical. You start to drink, you start to self-medicate and I kind of felt that it was unfair, that I was doing the right thing taking my antidepressants. And so I tried drinking."

Thorpe admitted he should have opened up to his friends but he says he was trying to protect them.

"I didn't want to share my problems with people and I didn't want anyone else to know that I'm unhappy because I'm living what is, you know, the dream life for an Australian. I should be having the time of my life, and I'm not."

When talking of his depression the once-fastest swimmer alive admitted there were days when he couldn't even get out of bed and often turned up to the pool for training hung-over.

"I have to say that turning up with a hangover is a lot easier than what it was to turn up feeling completely depressed and forcing yourself out of bed," he said.

On his suicidal thoughts, he clarified: "I believe there is a difference in thinking about suicide and then actually contemplating suicide," adding: "I couldn't deal with leaving friends and family, I couldn't do it to them."

Sitting opposite Parkinson, Thorpie looks tired and older than his 31 years but his huge frame dressed all in black towers over the talk-show personality, reminding us all what a formidable force he still is.

And he's not ready to give up on his "intimate relationship with swimming" just yet.

"I want to be able to swim. I've gone through a period where I loathe swimming and I wanted nothing to do with it. I've reflected on it and I do want to swim again, and I'll do my darnedest to get there again," he assured, hinting at a future in the pool, coaching youngsters.

Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe poses at the Pan Pacific Hotel on November 1, 2011 in Singapore. Source: Getty Images

"If I was to take on some other projects, it would be with top swimmers and give them an insight into what swimming is for me."

From the very beginning Ian Thorpe was a "winner". Even as a youngster he surpassed his friends, his competitors and his rivals.

He went on to win five Olympic gold medals, break 22 world records and win the hearts of a nation.

Thorpie's admission that he is gay has unsurprisingly been met by a flood of support from the public on social media, both in Australia and across the world.

The hashtag #onyathorpie began trending on Twitter over the weekend.

Thorpe concludes the incredibly emotional interview by telling Parkinson that he would love a career in television and is looking forward to working with Ten during the Commonwealth Games.. "I much prefer the chair that you're sitting in," he told Parkinson.

"I look at my life, I've made mistakes but I've made good choices with my life and I think I've got back to one of the core values which is most important to me, which is my honesty and my integrity. This is one thing that I value more than anything else and I've just offered it to people."

For support and information about depression contact Lifeline on 13114 beyondblue on 1300224636 Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78.


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