After years of denials about his sexuality, Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe said Sunday: "I'm comfortable saying I'm a gay man, and I don't want young people to feel the same way I did."
In an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson on Australia's Channel 10, the five-time Olympic gold medalist said -- after revealing he suffered from depression and alcoholism and contemplated suicide -- that "I could have lived a very different life if I'd been out." He said several times that he was "ashamed" he had not come out sooner.
In the interview, Thorpe, 31, said the questions about his sexual orientation started 15 years ago and he spent those years either evading the question or denying he was gay. At times, he said he was subjected to homophobic slurs and often called a "faggot" in the street. "If I had the chance to deck all those people, I'd be in jail by now," he said, adding that the slurs drove him deeper into the closet.
Thorpe said he only became comfortable discussing the issue with family and close friends "the past two weeks."
"I was trying to be what I thought was the right athlete by other people's standards," Thorpe said. "I wanted to make people proud, I wanted to make my family proud, I wanted to make my nation proud. Part of me didn't know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay."
Thorpe was asked about his outright denials about being gay, and said, "The lie became so big that I didn't want people to question my integrity. A little bit of ego comes into it." He said that since coming out he was received nothing but love and support from his family.
The swimmer also said he was not lying when he said in his 2012 autobiography that sexually he had only been with women. "I'd recognize attractive men, but I'd never consider hooking up with them, because I was afraid of people finding out."
When asked what message he wanted to convey in doing the interview, Thorpe said: "I'm not just telling Australia, I'm telling the world. And I hope it helps people."
Asked about his future, Thorpe said: "I love kids. I have a wonderful nephew and a beautiful niece, and I'd like my own family." He added that after the interview, "I'm a little bit closer" to his goal.
The interview was a trending topic on Twitter, with Australians praising Thorpe's honesty in discussing his mental health and addiction struggles, and finally opening up about his sexual orientation.
I relate so much with his coming out experience, the pain and the support networks that are needed for this process. #Thorpie— Bailey Bond (@BondBailey) July 13, 2014
I want to cuddle Thorpie.— oneplanetmikey (@oneplanetmikey) July 13, 2014
As a parent of queer child this is hurting me so much. I thank you Ian. #Thorpe— Lynette Dixon (@Katieisfree) July 13, 2014
I hope Thorpie's interview shows just a few people out there that it does get better.— Ash McCallum (@SansSeraphAsh) July 13, 2014
Im finding this @IanThorpe interview deeply moving. Don't be ashamed, Thorpie. The struggle for others will be that bit easier.— John Kerrison (@jkerrison) July 13, 2014
Good on #Thorpie for having the courage to come out. There'll be a lot of young men taking courage from that mate. Well done.— Jonathan Ord (@jonord1) July 13, 2014
Playground of bullies telling a boy he's gay. Boy goes through hell. Boy finally comes out. Bullies laugh at him because it was "obvious."— Brendan Maclean (@macleanbrendan) July 13, 2014