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Ian Thorpe confirms he is gay

Legendary swimmer Ian Thorpe comes out as gay during an interview with Michael Parkinson.

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Exclusive: Why Ian Thorpe kept quiet

Ian Thorpe is gay, you say? He’s reportedly “come out” in his interview with Sir Michael Parkinson on Channel Ten on Sunday night? Gay, you say?

Well, who would have thought it?

A brief comeback: Ian Thorpe during the 2012 Australian Olympic trails when he failed to make the team.

A brief comeback: Ian Thorpe during the 2012 Australian Olympic trails when he failed to make the team. Photo: Getty Images

Apart from just about everyone who’s met and talked to our greatest Olympian, I mean.

Look, it’s not that being cultured, sensitive, softly spoken, discerning, philosophical and cosmopolitan with a huge interest in fashion are the exclusive preserves of gay sportspeople in the oft macho and proudly hairy-chested sports world we live in. But as Thorpe, by his own admission, has long ticked all those boxes, of course there has been speculation for many a’moon that he is “that way inclined,” as they say in the classics.

And you’re equally right that in a perfect world no one would give a tinker’s toss as to what Thorpe does in bed – and that already describes the views of a huge portion of the population – but therein lies the point. It ain’t a perfect world we live in, and with homophobia still such an omnipresent force in Australian life, the fact that our most admired modern sportsperson declares himself gay, is significant, and yet one more forearm jolt to the Hydra head of the beast known as bigotry.

Putting all his cards down on the table: Ian Thorpe.

Putting all his cards down on the table: Ian Thorpe. Photo: Supplied

When league player Ian Roberts declared himself gay nearly 20 years ago, it instantly reduced the voltage of sting on the cruellest schoolyard epithet of the lot, “yer a poofta.” When the gays can claim the toughest bastard whoever pulled on a football boot as one of their own, it simultaneously makes a mockery of so many of the negative stereotypes that gay Australians had laboured under – the ones quite unlike those positive stereotypes mentioned above. Well, now the gays also have the greatest Australian Olympian of all time, and one of the most admired figures in the country, in their corner when it comes to fighting that bigotry.

Beyond the impact the announcement will have on gay politics in Australia though, our chief hope has to be that it will make Thorpe himself happier. For without trying to play Sigmund Freud, too much, one can’t help wonder if having to hide his sexuality and not live as the man he wants to be has had anything to do with the depression, alcohol, prescription drugs and troubles he has had in recent years. If now that he no longer has to put out denials that are straight out lies, no longer has to live a lie, he can just get on with being his happier self?

And lie about it Thorpe has, for a long time, make no mistake.

Ian Thorpe's book <i>This is Me</i>.

Ian Thorpe's book This is Me. Photo: Supplied

"For the record,” he wrote in his autobiography two years ago, “ I am not gay and all my sexual experiences have been straight.”

Porky pie? Much more than that. What you write about your life in your autobiography is a little like what you say when under oath. When you call that autobiography This is My Life it is a further affirmation that what I am telling you is the dinkum oil.

But it wasn’t.

“The thing that I find hurtful about “speculation that I’m gay,” Thorpe went on, with the ABC, “is that people are questioning my integrity and what I say. That's the only part I find hurtful, that this is something I would be embarrassed about and that I would hide ... ”

More nonsense.

Now whether Sir Michael grills Thorpe about why he felt the need to be so vociferous in his denials, instead of pursuing what Alan Jones once called his “nuclear ships policy,” to the same question – “We neither confirm nor deny” – we will find out on Sunday night.

What I can say is that having discussed the issue with Sir Michael over lunch in London earlier this week, the great English interviewer told me that Thorpe was “fully forthcoming. I had no sense of him hiding anything.”

Good luck to Thorpe. And nor need he hide anything like that again. There remain plenty of gay people who don’t declare their sexuality because they simply don’t choose to and it is no one’s damn business anyway, but the fact remains the more people like Thorpe make declarations like he has, the closer Australia nudges to the perfect world where no one gives a damn.

Live and let live, Thorpie’s gay, the footy’s on, and pass me a beer would ya?