Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe explains the heartbreaking reason he didn’t come out sooner

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Olympic legend Ian Thorpe has opened up about why he spent so many years in the closet.

The Australian five-time Olympic gold medallist faced rumours about his sexuality for years, but always aggressively denied being gay.

He came out in 2014, explaining in a TV interview: “I’ve wanted to [come out] for some time… I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man.”

Ian Thorpe

Since coming out, Thorpe has been linked in tabloids to Ricky Martin, but is currently in a relationship with model Ryan Channing.

The swimmer, who first represented Australia internationally at the age of 14, spoke this week about his struggles with his sexuality.

Speaking on ABC show Anh’s Brush With Fame, he confessed: “I wish I had come out earlier.”

He said: “You know I was [first] accused of being gay when… I think I was 16 at the time.

“But because it was kind of like I was being accused of it, I’d always thought of it, as that being a bad thing.”

Thorpe was in the closet not only to the general public, but to many of his closest friends and family members.

He opened up to them just weeks before coming out publicly in 2014.

The Olympian explained: “It was really hard for me to tell my closest friends and family. And I mentioned to them, ‘do you know, I’m thinking of coming out on TV, just so it’s done’.

“People were like, ‘maybe you should just get used to it first’. I was like, ‘no. I will… no I’m going to do it’. I was able to be the kind of person who I am. And you know, that’s really a kind of powerful thing to have.”

“It’s weird, because [gay people] even have to think about, you know, do we hold hands or not? And we should be holding hands.”

He referenced the lack of marriage equality in Australia as contributing to a homophobic culture.

Thorpe said: “I think it’s important to have marriage equality in this country, and I think it’s important for it to happen now.

“I know what it was like to grow up as a young person, like a second-class citizen, feeling as though what I’m doing is wrong. That’s what’s implied when you don’t have the same kinds of rights as other people.”

It has not all been roses since coming out.

Thorpe recalled that he and his partner faced homophobic abuse for kissing in the back of a taxi.

He said: “There is still homophobia out there. I pecked the boyfriend in the back of a car and I was told to show some respect and ‘that’s disgusting, I don’t want you in my car’.

“I was rattled… I didn’t realise that in Sydney, in 2016, this can happen.”