Inside Ian Thorpe’s Olympic struggle with his sexuality

Ian Thorpe was 16 when he was first asked outright if he was gay.

For two years before that, the teenager endured speculation about his sexuality as he propelled towards Aussie Olympic greatness, The Daily Telegraph reports.

“It had been alluded to when I was 14 or 15. I was asked by a journalist when I was 16 straight up. So this was about a year out from the Olympic Games in Sydney,” Thorpe said in an interview to feature as part of Qtopia Sydney.

“They asked me directly, ‘there’s rumours about, you must have heard of them, are you gay?’ “It’s reflective of what is a completely different time in history. If someone had asked that question to a child right now, they would actually lose their job. This conversation has changed, and people’s attitudes as well.”

Thorpe, 41, came out as gay in a 2014 television interview with the late Michael Parkinson. It was through his teenage years that he realised he was attracted to guys but he didn’t want to “label it”.

At the time of coming out, he said: “I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man. And I don’t want people to feel the same way I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.”

Thorpe won three gold medals and two silver at the Sydney Olympics, plus a further two gold, one silver and a bronze at the Athens Games in 2004.

“I answered no,” he said of that first time being asked about his sexuality.

“The next year I have to swim the Olympics and basically I have to win. I do not want anything to be a distraction for me. I don’t want people talking about this.

“I already am under an immense amount of pressure where it’s simply assumed that I will win at these Olympic Games.
“So every time that it is alluded to that you may be gay, you’re thinking of it as a negative thing and as a young person, as a teenager when you only consider this thing that seems bad to you in some sense because people seem to be talking about it, you make it bigger than what it needs to be.

“In doing so, I didn’t want to come out and it made that burden, that weight of dealing with it more significant over time.”

Thorpe has been an advocate for social justice issues throughout his career.

He was one of the leaders in the discussion around same sex marriage being legalised in 2017.

He believes there is more work to do to make community safe for all, which is part of the reason he has supported Qtopia Sydney, the largest centre for Queer history and culture in the world.

The centre has its official opening on Friday with the likes of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and NSW Premier Chris Minns to attend.

“What’s being weaponised now is actually Trans issues,” he said.

“This kind of fear mongering that comes from what is a really small number of the community, the population. People are fearful of what they don’t know.

“When I have the pleasure of introducing a Trans person to a minister while I’m in Canberra, that fear dissipates very quickly.

“And, once you’re seen, once you’re understood, you’re there and it means that someone relates to you when they’re making a policy decision.”

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Originally published as ‘I didn’t want to come out’: Inside teenage Ian Thorpe’s Olympic struggle

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