Swimming legend Ian Thorpe revealed that he is gay and battled depression and alcohol abuse for the greater part of his world-beating swimming career.
In an extraordinarily confessional interview with British talkshow legend Michael Parkinson, aired on Channel Ten on Sunday, Thorpe put an end to years of speculation and contradicted his own numerous and declarative denials to say that he is gay.
"I'm not straight," Thorpe said.
Thorpe said he decided only in the past two weeks to confront rumours that followed him, he revealed, since he was 16, or even felt able to tell his friends and family.
"I've wanted to for some time. I didn't feel I could," he said.
"Part of me didn't know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay [now] I am telling the world that I am."
Thorpe also opened up about his problems with mental health and admitted to contemplating suicide at the depths of his depression.
"I couldn't do it to [friends and family]," he said. "It was the only thing that stopped me."
Thorpe said that he had been taking anti-depressants since he was 19, battled alcoholism and even turned up to training hungover "now and again".
"I knew I was a little bit different but there were times that I just wasn't happy," he said.
"It was a lethargy that followed me that I didn't understand."
He said the inefficacy of therapy and medication led him to self-medicate through alcohol abuse.
"[I thought] 'I'll have a drink so I feel better' then it becomes cyclical you start to drink you start to self-medicate," he said.
Thorpe said he kept his struggles with alcohol abuse to himself to protect his family.
Thorpe's rapid ascent into legendary status at 17 years of age did not help his mental health and he first sought psychological support in his teens.
"I'd accomplished my dream at 17, I could have walked away from the sport," he told Parkinson. "I didn't understand why I wasn't completely over the moon with these results."
Thorpe said he now regretted his decision to walk away from the sport at the age of 24, a decision he took "partly" because of his depression, but largely because of the pressures of media intrusion and expectation.
"I wish that I hadn't," he said. "I felt my career was not my own - it was other people's."
Thorpe was reportedly paid $400,000 for the interview, which was made part of his deal to work as a commentator for the Commonwealth Games for Channel Ten.
Thorpe, who made a failed bid for selection for the 2012 Olympics, spoke of his ongoing problems with a shoulder infection and revealed that it may stop him from ever swimming again.
"I may not be able to lift my arm above my head ... which would mean that I would never swim again," he said, relaying a conversation with his doctor.
Thorpe said he was due for further surgery but was still aiming to swim again.
"I'll do my darndest," he said.
To Everyone who has sent a message of support I sincerely Thank you!
— Ian Thorpe (@IanThorpe) July 13, 2014
ATHLETES RALLY ROUND THORPE
Fellow athletes have rallied behind Ian Thorpe's decision to reveal he is gay and say his choice to come out is a significant step forward for others struggling to be open about their sexuality.
— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) July 13, 2014
Australian diver Matthew Mitcham came out as gay before winning a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, but said Thorpe's enormous fame meant his revelation was unprecedented in terms of the impact it would have.
"There is no precedent, not on this scale," said Mitcham. "It must have been a very harrowing ordeal."
Thorpe is among the most successful athletes in Australian history, with five Olympic gold medals. He has been stalked by speculation about his sexuality since he burst on to the international swimming scene when he was just 15.
Mitcham said he believed questions about sexual orientation were not something the media should be asking of athletes who start so young.
"It would have been much harder with people asking continuously, especially when you're just not ready.
"[For athletes in their teens], it's too young to make a choice, you're not going to come out and say something that you haven't decided on."
Almost all gay and lesbian people question their identity, a battle that can take years if not decades, said Mitcham.
He is not surprised that Thorpe denied the claims for so long.
"It took him 15 years to change his answer [to the question of his sexuality], which is a perfect indicator of his struggle," Mitcham said.
One of Thorpe's great Australian rivals, Grant Hackett, echoed the calls of support.
"He should be remembered as one of our greatest Olympians," he told the Nine Network, "Not the guy who came out."
Sponsorship commitments would have weighed heavily on any athlete deciding whether to go public with their sexuality; the stereotypes and the stigma are well known, said Mitcham.
"That's why we need high-profile gay athletes, to prove the stereotype wrong," he said. "Thorpe is about as high profile as it gets.
"He's very influential, I think he has the potential to influence a lot of people, and how people react to it."
It took another Australian swimmer, Daniel Kowalski, six years after he retired to reveal that he was gay.
- Brisbane Times
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