Ian Thorpe Comes Out As Gay, Warms Hearts Everywhere

Australian Olympic swimming star Ian Thorpe confirmed he is gay on Sunday in a television special on Australia's Channel Ten. The 90-minute interview with British talk-show legend Michael Parkinson touched on many aspects of Thorpe's life – his long, private battle with depression and self-medication, his hopes for a family one day, his thoughts on a possible political career – but the athlete's disclosure on his sexuality is the biggest bombshell. For the first time ever, Thorpe revealed, "I'm comfortable saying I'm a gay man."

The nine-time Olympic medalist is no stranger to speculation about his sexuality. In fact, in his 2012 memoir, he went so far as to write, "For the record, I am not gay and all my sexual experiences have been straight." And the denials go back much further than that: The now-31-year-old says he was asked about his sexuality for the first time when he was 15. Of course, at that point he was still very much in the closet – a closet he says he didn't quite emerge from until his month. "I'm not straight," Thorpe told Parkinson in Sunday's interview. "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 exactly that."

Thorpe disclosed in the interview that keeping his sexuality hidden – even from his therapist – contributed substantially to his lengthy, difficult struggle with clinical depression. The self-imposed pressure, though, grew to be too much. "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," he confessed. "I didn't want people to think that I had lied about everything." But despite his fears, Australians and fans worldwide have rallied around Thorpe, praising his bravery in an era when coming out is still kind of a big deal, even as LGBT people worldwide are gaining rights and visibility.

This is clearly a response Thorpe, who didn't even come out to his mother and friends until very recently, was not expecting. "A part of me didn't know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay," he cited as one reason for not coming out sooner. "I am telling not only Australia, I'm telling the world that I am and I hope this makes it easier for others now."